Investigation identifies proteins causing loss of connections in the brain.
Alzheimer’s disease is projected to strike more than 14 million Americans by the year 2050, and scientists are racing to find a cure for the dreaded disease that affects the brain.
According to an article on medicalnewstoday.com, a new discovery about the early development of the disease could lead researchers down a path to a cure.
The research team, led by scientists at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia say they have found how brain cell connections are being destroyed in the early stages of the disease, and that breakthrough could lead to a new type of research.
Alzheimer’s disease was first discovered in 1906, by Dr. Alois Alzheimer after observing the symptoms of a woman who died after experiencing memory loss and unpredictable behavior. Dr. Alzheimer noted abnormal clumps and tangled fibers in the brain tissue of the woman.
This new study looked at loss of synapses, which connect brain neurons and are required for all brain functions. The loss occurs very early at the onset of the disease, when only mild cognitive impairment is noted, well before the time the nerve cells begin to die.
Dr. Vladimir Sytnyk, from the UNSW School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences said he and his colleagues investigated a brain protein called neural cell adhesion molecule 2 (NCAM2), a member of a family of molecules that connect snyapse membranes. The synapses help maintain the connections between neurons.
Through the study of mice, the research team discovered that NCAM2 was being broken down by beta-amyloid proteins, the abnormal clumps that develop in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
Dr. Synthk explained they team had identified a new molecular system that directly contributed to loss of synapses, and they think the discovery can lead to earlier diagnosis and eventually new treatments for the disease.
He added the discovery of the link between the loss of NCAM2 as a result of the toxic effects of beta-amyloid opened a new avenue of research for possible treatments to slow down or prevent the destruction of NCAM2 in a person’s brain.
As of 2013, five million Americans were suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Symptoms of the disease typically appear in persons over 60 and the risk of getting the disease increases with age.
The findings of the study were published in the journal Nature Communications.