NEW YORK (CBS NEWS) – An ingredient used in artificial butter flavoring for popcorn may worsen the effects of an abnormal brain protein that’s been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study in Chemical Research in Toxicology examined diacetyl (DA), an ingredient used to produce the buttery flavor and smell in microwave popcorn, margarine, candy, baked goods and even pet food. It is also created naturally in fermented drinks like beer, and gives some chardonnay wines its buttery taste, according to the study.

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Scientists at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis conducted an analysis of DA, a chemical which previously has been linked to respiratory problems in employees at microwave popcorn and food-flavoring factories. They found that DA has a structure that’s similar to a substance that makes beta-amyloid proteins. Too much amyloid that clumps together to form plaques are a tell-tale marker of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain. The researchers wanted to see whether DA would clump those proteins in a similar fashion to form plaques.

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They found DA did lead to an increase in levels of beta-amyloid clumping, leading to toxic effects on nerve cells the scientists grew in a laboratory.

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