Natural Form of Vitamin E Protects the Brain after a Stroke

A natural form of vitamin E called alpha-tocotrienol can trigger production of a protein in the brain that clears toxins from nerve cells, preventing those cells from dying after a stroke, new research shows.

This process is one of three mechanisms identified so far that this natural form of vitamin E uses to protect brain cells after a stroke, meaning that this natural form of vitamin E might be more potent than drugs targeting single mechanisms for preventing stroke damage, according to scientists who have studied the nutrient for more than a decade.

These researchers previously reported that the tocotrienol natural form of vitamin E protects the brain after a stroke by blocking an enzyme from releasing toxic fatty acids and inhibiting activity of a gene that can lead to neuron death.

Vitamin E occurs naturally in eight different forms, and all of this work is focused on the tocotrienol form, also known as TCT. The commonly known form of vitamin E belongs to a variety called tocopherols. The natural form of vitamin E is not abundant in the American diet but is available as a nutritional supplement. It is a common component of a typical Southeast Asian diet.

In this new study, the researchers first clarified the role of a protein called MRP1, or multidrug resistance-associated protein 1. This protein clears away a compound that can cause toxicity and cell death when it builds up in neurons as a result of the trauma of blocked blood flow associated with a stroke.

They then determined that the natural form of vitamin E taken orally influences production of this protein by elevating the activity of genes that make MRP1. This appears to occur at the microRNA level; a microRNA is a small segment of RNA that influences a gene’s protein-building function.

This is one of the first studies to provide evidence that a safe nutrient – a vitamin – can alter microRNA biology to produce a favorable disease outcome,” said senior author Chandan Sen. “Here, a natural nutritional product is simultaneously acting on multiple targets to help prevent stroke-induced brain damage. That is a gifted molecule.”

Over the past decade, Sen has led numerous studies on how the natural form of vitamin E protects the brain against stroke damage in animal and cell models, and intends to eventually pursue tests of its potential to both prevent and treat strokes in humans.

These latest research findings in mice follow a recent Food and Drug Administration certification of TCT as “Generally Recognized as Safe.” The scientists conclude in the paper that even before clinical trials can take place, “TCT may be considered as a preventive nutritional countermeasure for people at high risk for stroke.”

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