A lab study shows that the brain needs an important mineral to shape proteins correctly and avoid memory problems. If your brain lacks this crucial nutrient, clumps of harmful proteins may collect and lead to illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The mineral in question is zinc: Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found that zinc ions play a vital role in synthesizing and maintaining proteins in the correct shape. Their study demonstrates that a gene called Tsa1 creates protein chaperones that prevent clumping of proteins in cells with a zinc shortage. By holding proteins in solution, Tsa1 prevents damage that can otherwise lead to cell death.
“Zinc is an essential nutrient but if there’s too much, it’s toxic. The issue for the cell is to find enough zinc to grow and support all its functions, while at the same time not accumulating so much that it kills the cell,” says researcher Colin MacDiarmid.
Tsa1, MacDiarmid says, “is really a two-part protein. It can get rid of dangerous reactive oxygen species that damage proteins, but it also has this totally distinct chaperone function that protects proteins from aggregating. We found that the chaperone function was the more important of the two.”
“In yeast, if a cell is deficient in zinc, the proteins can mis-fold, and Tsa1 is needed to keep the proteins intact so they can function,” says David Eide, a professor of nutritional science. “If you don’t have zinc, and you don’t have Tsa1, the proteins will glom together into big aggregations that are either toxic by themselves, or toxic because the proteins are not doing what they are supposed to do. Either way, you end up killing the cell.”