Neuroprotective mechanisms of red clover and soy isoflavones in Parkinson's disease models

Food Funct. 2021 Nov 29;12(23):11987-12007. doi: 10.1039/d1fo00007a.


Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by nigrostriatal degeneration and the spreading of aggregated forms of the presynaptic protein α-synuclein (aSyn) throughout the brain. PD patients are currently only treated with symptomatic therapies, and strategies to slow or stop the progressive neurodegeneration underlying the disease's motor and cognitive symptoms are greatly needed. The time between the first neurobiochemical alterations and the initial presentation of symptoms is thought to span several years, and early neuroprotective dietary interventions could delay the disease onset or slow PD progression. In this study, we characterized the neuroprotective effects of isoflavones, a class of dietary polyphenols found in soy products and in the medicinal plant red clover (Trifolium pratense). We found that isoflavone-rich extracts and individual isoflavones rescued the loss of dopaminergic neurons and the shortening of neurites in primary mesencephalic cultures exposed to two PD-related insults, the environmental toxin rotenone and an adenovirus encoding the A53T aSyn mutant. The extracts and individual isoflavones also activated the Nrf2-mediated antioxidant response in astrocytes via a mechanism involving inhibition of the ubiquitin-proteasome system, and they alleviated deficits in mitochondrial respiration. Furthermore, an isoflavone-enriched soy extract reduced motor dysfunction exhibited by rats lesioned with the PD-related neurotoxin 6-OHDA. These findings suggest that plant-derived isoflavones could serve as dietary supplements to delay PD onset in at-risk individuals and mitigate neurodegeneration in the brains of patients.