Chemical link revealed in Alzheimer's study

 

Alzheimer's symptoms such as memory loss could be prevented by
targeting a chemical that dismantles brain connections, research
suggests.

Scientists have already started work searching for a drug that will block the mechanism, discovered in mice.

If successful, a treatment that effectively protects against the effects of Alzheimer's could be available in the next 10 years.

It has long been known that the disease is linked to a build-up of toxic amyloid-beta protein in the brain.

Researchers at University College London have now found that amyloid-beta stimulates production of another protein, Dkk1, which is largely responsible for Alzheimer's symptoms.

Dkk1 destroys synapses, connections between neurons, in the hippocampus area of the brain vital to learning and memory.

Studying samples of mouse brain in the laboratory, the scientists found they could neutralise Dkk1 with a specific antibody.

Neurons exposed to the antibody remained healthy with no synaptic disintegration.

In practical terms, it is unlikely that a vaccine-type treatment could tackle Alzheimer's the same way.

But study leader Dr Patricia Salinas said now that Dkk1's role was known, there was a chance of developing drugs to target it.

"These novel findings raise the possibility that targeting this secreted Dkk1 protein could offer an effective treatment to protect synapses against the toxic effect of amyloid-beta," she said.

"Importantly, these results raise the hope for a treatment and perhaps the prevention of cognitive decline early in Alzheimer's disease."

Her team is now working with a biotech company to develop molecules that can block Dkk1.

A major obstacle is overcoming the "blood-brain barrier" - a natural "firewall" that prevents damaging substances entering the brain.

"It's a long shot but we're talking about a period of about 10 years," Dr Salinas added.

Since Dkk1 is normally present in such small quantities in a healthy human brain, targeting it is unlikely to produce serious side effects, she said.

The protein is thought to play an important role in early development, helping the brain to construct its "wiring". In adult life, Dkk1 ceases to have any known useful function in the brain and its levels are drastically reduced.

Amyloid-beta leads to increased production of Dkk1 at a time when it is not wanted.

"The key thing is that this factor gets developed very, very quickly by amyloid-beta," said Dr Salinas.

"If we could target Dkk1 early in Alzheimer's disease we may be able to ameliorate or delay loss of memory."

Another possibility is that the protein could be used as a biomarker for early Alzheimer's diagnosis, she said.

It could be detected in cerebrospinal fluid, although such a test would be invasive.

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, was funded by the charity Alzheimer's Research UK and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "By understanding what happens in the brain during Alzheimer's, we stand a better chance of developing new treatments that could make a real difference to people with the disease.

"Studies like this are an essential part of that process but more work is needed if we are to take these results from the lab bench to the clinic."

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, which affects around 750,000 people in the UK and costs the economy an estimated £23 billion per year.

PA

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

    £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

    Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

    £23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

    Day In a Page

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...