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
Arts and Entertainment
British musician Mark Ronson arrives for the UK premiere of the film 'Mortdecai'
music
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
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

    Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

    Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

    Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

    Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

    £15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

    Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us