Alzheimer's researcher reveals a protein's dual destructiveness - and therapeutic potentialDecember 04, 2012
A scientist at the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health has identified the molecule that controls a scissor-like protein responsible for the production of plaques - the telltale sign of Alzheimer's disease (AD).
The molecule, known as GSK3-beta, activates a gene that creates a protein, called BACE1. When BACE1 cuts another protein, called APP, the resulting fragment - known as amyloid beta - forms tiny fibers that clump together into plaques in the brain, eventually killing neural cells.
Using an animal model, Dr. Weihong Song, Canada Research Chair in Alzheimer's Disease and professor of psychiatry, found that disabling GSK3-beta's effect in mice resulted in less BACE1 and far fewer deposits of amyloid in their brains. Song's research, published online today in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, also found that such mice performed better than untreated mice on memory tests.
Previous research had shown that GSK3-beta spurred the growth of twisted fibers inside neurons, known as tangles - another hallmark of AD. Song says his discovery of the protein's dual destructiveness makes it a promising target for drug research.
GSK3-beta, however, is a versatile enzyme that controls many vital physiological functions. The drug used to inhibit GSK3-beta in the mice is too indiscriminate, and could cause several serious side effects, including cancer.
"If we can find a way to stop GSK3-beta's specific reaction with BACE1, and still leave it intact to perform other crucial tasks, we have a much better chance of treating AD and preventing its progression," says Song, a member of the Brain Research Centre at UBC and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute (VCHRI), and Director of the Townsend Family Laboratories at UBC.
BACKGROUND | Alzheimer's research
An elusive target: Finding AD therapies is particularly challenging because by the time symptoms of memory loss and cognitive decline appear, much of the damage - in the form of plaques and tangles - has already been done and is irreversible. To demonstrate a preventive effect, a new drug would have to be given to a very large group of people, and those people followed over a long period of time to determine if AD rates are lower than a control group.
China connection: Dr. Song conducted some of this research in Chongqing, China, where he is Director of the Canada-China Joint Center for Translational Medical Research in Child Development and Alzheimer's Disease - a partnership between UBC and the Children's Hospital of Chongqing Medical University.
The University of British Columbia
Related Alzheimer's Disease Current Events and Alzheimer's Disease News Articles
Evidence of a lipid link in the inherited form of Alzheimer's disease
Australian researchers have found biochemical changes occurring in the blood, in the rare inherited form of Alzheimer's disease.
Head injury patients develop brain clumps associated with Alzheimer's disease
Scientists have revealed that protein clumps associated with Alzheimer's disease are also found in the brains of people who have had a head injury.
Pills for anxiety and sleep problems not linked to increased dementia risk
Taking benzodiazepines (widely used drugs to treat anxiety and insomnia) is not associated with an increased dementia risk in older adults, finds a study published by The BMJ today.
Fishing for answers about mercury consumption
It's a fishy situation: On the one hand, multiple scientific studies have found that eating seafood helps protect against dementia. On the other hand (or fin), seafood also is a source of the element mercury, which has been thought to cause damage to cells in the brain, contributing to cognitive impairment.
Study shows increased risk of early mortality in women with hypertensive disease
It has long been recognized that pregnancy puts considerable stress on the body and that there are specific conditions during pregnancy that will indicate lifelong health issues.
Study determines saliva gland test can spot early Parkinson's disease
Researchers from Mayo Clinic in Arizona and Banner Sun Health Research Institute have determined that testing a portion of a person's submandibular gland may be a way to diagnose early Parkinson's disease.
Gene study points towards therapies for common brain disorders
Scientists have pinpointed the cells that are likely to trigger common brain disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, Multiple Sclerosis and intellectual disabilities.
A key mechanism has been discovered which prevents memory loss in Alzheimer's disease
Neurons communicate with one another by synaptic connections, where information is exchanged from one neuron to its neighbor.
Chronic stress and anxiety can damage the brain
A scientific review paper warns that people need to find ways to reduce chronic stress and anxiety in their lives or they may be at increased risk for developing depression and even dementia.
Environmental toxin may increase risk of Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative illnesses
A new study published today in the science journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B indicates that chronic exposure to an environmental toxin may increase risk of neurodegenerative illness.
More Alzheimer's Disease Current Events and Alzheimer's Disease News Articles