Metabolic pathways are like the road you take to get from home to work, where you convert your energy and resources into something more useful for your daily goals. In the human body, they are a series of biochemical reactions in cells that convert an initial component into other products. And while they sound complicated, there is growing evidence that metabolic pathways, along with external stressors, influence the health of cells and tissues.
It turns out that many human diseases, such as retinal or neurodegenerative diseases, are associated with imbalances in metabolic pathways. But don’t worry, there is a research team led by Elisabeth Knust at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, Germany that is working on it.
These researchers studied the classic Drosophila genes, which are named after abnormal eye colors such as cinnabar, cardinal, white, and scarlet. It turns out that these genes encode components of the kynurenine pathway, a metabolic pathway that is essential for maintaining retinal health under stress conditions.
The kynurenine pathway is an evolutionarily conserved metabolic pathway that regulates a variety of biological processes. Its discontinuation can result in the accumulation of toxic or protective biomolecules or metabolites, which can worsen or improve, respectively, the health of the brain, including the retina.
To find out, the scientists used a combination of genetics, dietary changes, and biochemical analyzes of metabolites to study different mutations of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. They discovered that a metabolite, 3-hydroxykynurenine (3OH-K), damages the retina. But they also found that the ratio of different kynurenine pathway metabolites can improve retinal health in certain conditions.
So the next time you feel overwhelmed by life’s challenges, remember that the correct ratio of the various metabolites in your metabolic pathways is just as important as the balance of salt and pepper in a good meal. And if you have a neurodegenerative disease, perhaps passion fruit and kiwi are your solutions, as these foods are rich in kynurenic acid, a protective metabolite that could improve your retinal health.