The activities of mitochondrial enzymes, which are essential for neural function, decline with age and in age-related disease. In particular, the activity of cytochrome c oxidase (COX/complex IV) decreases in patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD). COX, a mitochondrial inner membrane protein complex that contains heme, plays an essential role in the electron transport chain that generates ATP. Heme synthesis begins with 5-aminolevulinic acid (5-ALA) in mitochondria. 5-ALA synthetase is the rate-limiting enzyme in heme synthesis, suggesting that supplementation with 5-ALA might help preserve mitochondrial activity in the aged brain. We administered a diet containing 5-ALA to triple-transgenic AD (3xTg-AD) model mice for 6 months, starting at 3 months of age. COX activity and protein expression, as well as mitochondrial membrane potential, were significantly higher in brains of 5-ALA-fed mice than in controls. Synaptotagmin protein levels were also significantly higher in 5-ALA-fed mice, suggesting improved preservation of synapses. Although brain Aβ levels tended to decrease in 5-ALA-fed mice, we observed no other significant changes in other biochemical and pathological hallmarks of AD. Nevertheless, our study suggests that daily oral administration of 5-ALA could preserve mitochondrial enzyme activities in the brains of aged individuals, thereby contributing to the preservation of neural activity.
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