Compound found in rosemary protects against macular degeneration in laboratory model

Left: This shows control cells exposed to hydrogen peroxide. Right: This shows cells treated with carnosic acid are protected from hydrogen peroxide. Live cells are stained green, dead cells are stained red. Credit: Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute

Herbs widely used throughout history in Asian and early European cultures have received renewed attention by Western medicine in recent years. Scientists are now isolating the active compounds in many medicinal herbs and documenting their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. In a study published in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, Stuart A. Lipton, M.D., Ph.D. and colleagues at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute (Sanford-Burnham) report that carnosic acid, a component of the herb rosemary, promotes eye health.

Lipton's team found that carnosic acid protects retinas from degeneration and toxicity in cell culture and in rodent models of light-induced retinal damage. Their findings suggest that carnosic acid may have clinical applications for diseases affecting the outer retina, including age-related macular degeneration, the most common eye disease in the U.S.

Age-related macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration likely has many underlying causes. Yet previous studies suggest that the disease might be slowed or improved by chemicals that fight free radicals—reactive related to oxygen and nitrogen that damage membranes and other cell processes.

Lipton's team first discovered a few years ago that carnosic acid fights off free radical damage in the brain. In their latest study, Lipton and colleagues, including Tayebeh Rezaie, Ph.D. and Takumi Satoh, Ph.D., initially investigated carnosic acid's protective mechanism in laboratory of retinal cells.

The researchers exposed the cells growing in the dish to hydrogen peroxide in order to induce oxidative stress, a factor thought to contribute to disease progression in eye conditions such as macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. They found that cells treated with carnosic acid triggered antioxidant enzyme production in the cells, which in turn lowered levels of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (cell-damaging free radicals and peroxides).

Rosemary's therapeutic potential

Lipton, Rezaie, Satoh and colleagues next tested carnosic acid in an animal model of light-induced damage to photoreceptors—the part of the eye that converts light to electrical signals, enabling visual perception. As compared to the untreated group, rodents pre-treated with carnosic acid retained a thicker outer nuclear layer in the eye, indicating that their photoreceptors were protected. The carnosic acid-treated rodents also exhibited better electroretinogram activity, a measure of healthy photoreceptor function.

What's next for carnosic acid? "We're now developing improved derivatives of carnosic and related compounds to protect the retina and other brain areas from a number of degenerative conditions, including age-related macular degeneration and various forms of dementia," said Lipton, director of Sanford-Burnham's Del E. Webb Neuroscience, Aging, and Stem Cell Research Center and an active clinical neurologist.

Related Stories

Rosemary chicken protects your brain from free radicals

date Oct 30, 2007

Rosemary not only tastes good in culinary dishes such as Rosemary chicken and lamb, but scientists have now found it is also good for your brain. A collaborative group from the Burnham Institute for Medical Research (Burnham ...

Scientists successfully awaken sleeping stem cells

date Mar 18, 2008

Scientists at Schepens Eye Research Institute have discovered what chemical in the eye triggers the dormant capacity of certain non-neuronal cells to transform into progenitor cells, a stem-like cell that can generate new ...

Recommended for you

Detecting eye diseases using smartphone technology

date 1 hour ago

Researchers at the Medical and Surgical Center for Retina have developed software that detects eye diseases such as diabetic macular edema using a smartphone. The system is aimed at general physicians who ...

Miniature pump regulates internal ocular pressure

date Jul 01, 2015

Elevated or diminished eye pressure impairs our ability to see, and in the worst cases, can even lead to blindness. Until now, there has been no effective long-term treatment. In response, Fraunhofer researchers are developing ...

Closing the Australian eye health gap may be in sight

date Jun 30, 2015

Three years after the launch of the roadmap to close the gap for vision, progress has been made but "much remains to be done", according to the authors of a Perspective published online today by the Medical Jo ...

Pioneering gene therapy takes aim at inherited blindness

date Jun 29, 2015

Canada's first human gene therapy trial for eyes—the replacement of a faulty gene with a healthy one—is now underway at the Royal Alexandra Hospital to preserve and potentially restore vision for people ...

Iris research focuses on blood vessel patterns

date Jun 29, 2015

The structure of the microvasculature or blood vessels in the iris could play an important role in people's contraction of eye maladies like glaucoma and cataract, according to a WA-led study.

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Tachyon8491
Nov 28, 2012
Have plenty of Rosemary growing in my garden - now if only I could see it... Seriously, Rosemary oil has done wonders for me for severe joint pain after a sprain - natural herbs are vastly underestimated.I would rather commit to such complementary therapy than any allopathic pharm with endless contraindications and side-effects.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.