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
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
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

    Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

    £16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

    £27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

    £19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

    Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

    Day In a Page

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor