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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
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

    Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

    Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

    £90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

    £100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee