Molecule links Down syndrome to Alzheimer's

December 05, 2005

Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London have identified a molecule that could be targeted to treat the cognitive impairment in people with Down syndrome. The study, published in Archives of General Psychiatry found that people with Down syndrome have higher levels of myo-inositol in their brains than people without the condition, and that increased levels of this molecule are associated with reduced intellectual ability.

The researchers also suspect that high levels of myo-inositol could play a role in predisposing people with Down syndrome to early-onset Alzheimer's disease. The molecule is known to promote the formation of amyloid plaques - a hallmark of Alzheimer's.

Once they reach 40 years old, almost all people with Down syndrome show the characteristic brain formations of Alzheimer's disease, though they don't all go on to get dementia. The combination of pre-existing mental retardation with an increasing overlying dementia is difficult to treat, and expensive to manage.

Professor Declan Murphy, who led the research said: 'We have shown in this study that adults with Down syndrome have a significantly higher concentration of myo-inositol in the hippocampal region of their brains, and this increase is associated with a reduced cognitive ability. We are now carrying out more studies to see if we can reduce the concentration of myo-inositol in the brains of people with Down's. We hope that if we can do this, it will be a new way of treating this disorder.'

Down syndrome is the most common genetic cause of mental retardation. It is caused when a child has three copies of chromosome 21, rather than the usual two.

One of the genes on chromosome 21 encodes a transporter that pumps the molecule myo-inositol into the brain. The increased levels of myo-inositol in the brains of people with Down syndrome could be explained by the fact that these people have an extra copy of the gene that makes this pump.
Notes for editors
1. The researchers used proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy to measure the concentrations of myo-inositol in the brains of 38 adults with Down syndrome and 42 healthy controls.

2. The cognitive performance of the adults with Down syndrome was assessed using the Cambridge cognitive examination.

3. This press release is based on the following study:
Hippocampal myo-inositol and cognitive ability in adults with Down Syndrome: an in vivo H-MRS study.
Felix Beacher; Andy Simmons; Eileen Daly; Verinder Prasher; Claire Adams; Maria Luisa Margallo-Lana; Robin Morris; Simon
Lovestone; Kieran Murphy; Declan GM Murphy.
Archives of General Psychiatry
Volume 63, No.12, December 2005

The Institute of Psychiatry
The Institute of Psychiatry is part of King's College London and is closely affiliated to the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust. The Institute is a world-renowned centre for treatment, research and training in psychiatry and mental health. The organisation is involved in pioneering new and improved ways of understanding and treating mental illness and brain disease. Its wide-ranging field of work includes depression, eating disorders, brain imaging, genetics and psychosis.

The Institute was one of only two organisations in the field of psychiatry which received a five star rating in the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise conducted by the Higher Education Funding Council of England. The exercise, which is conducted every five years, enables the funding councils to distribute public funds for research selectively on the basis of quality.

King's College London
King's College London is one of the two oldest and largest colleges of the University of London with over 13,800 undergraduate students and nearly 5,700 postgraduates in nine schools of study. It is a member of the Russell Group: a coalition of the UK's major research-based universities.

The College has had 24 of its subject-areas awarded the highest rating of 5* and 5 for research quality, demonstrating excellence at an international level, and it has recently received an excellent result in its audit by the Quality Assurance Agency. King's is in the top group of UK universities for research earnings, with income from grants and contracts of £100 million, and has an annual turnover of more than £348 million. In 2004 the College was once again awarded an AA- financial credit rating from Standard & Poor's.

Press contacts
For further information about this study, contact Declan Murphy, Professor of Psychiatry and Brain Maturation, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London. Tel: 44-207-848-0982, email:

Alternatively, and for a copy of the paper, contact Gemma Bradley, Public Relations Officer, King's College London. Tel: 44- 207-848-4334, email:

King's College London

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