A team of researchers from University of Saskatchewan in Canada have developed a caffeine-based chemical compound that could halt the progression of Parkinson's disease.

Parkinson's is a disease of the nervous system caused primarily in middle-aged and older people marked by symptoms such as muscle stiffness, uncontrolled shakes and slow, imprecise movements. The disease is caused when the brain cells that produce dopamine are lost. Dopamine is an essential neurotransmitter that helps neurons communicate with each other.

A protein called α-synuclein (AS) that regulates the neurotransmitter dopamine gets misfolded into unusual compact structures leading to the death of neurons involved in the production of dopamine. The AS misfolding appears similar to prion disease where one clumping stimulates such process in the rest of the proteins.

Jeremy Lee, a biochemist from Saskatchewan, said that therapeutic compounds available in the market aim at promoting the dopamine production in the surviving cells. This technique is applicable only until there are sufficient cells available for the process. However, researchers at Saskatchewan are focused at preventing the AS misfolding, the root cause of the problem, to be able to stop the death of dopamine producing cells.

"To improve the binding to α-synuclein, eight novel compounds were synthesized from a caffeine scaffold attached to (R,S)-1-aminoindan, (R,S)-nicotine and metformin, and their binding to α-synuclein determined through nanopore analysis and isothermal titration calorimetry," reported the study published in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience.

Lee noted that 30 different "bifunctional dimer" drugs were synthesized for this purpose. The team that began with caffeine "scaffold" tested other compounds like aminoindan, metformin and nicotine. As a result, two dimers were found to prevent AS from folding into compact structures thereby stopping the progression of Parkinson's disease, Lee said in a press release.

In another study published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, it was reported that women aged 65 years and above were at decreased risk of developing cognitive impairment and dementia when their caffeine intake was high.

The researchers included 6,467 women for the study, who were followed for a period of 10 years. About 36 percent reduced risk of dementia was observed in women that reported to have consumed more than 261 milligrams of caffeine every day.

Ira Driscoll, the lead author of the study from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee noted that though no direct association between caffeine intake and decreased risk of dementia and cognitive impairment could be made as of now, further studies could help establish the link between them, noted The Seattle Times.

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