A team of researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry has published a study which gives the most detailed understanding yet of the complex processes leading to Alzheimer's. The discovery of the molecular pathway that drives the changes seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients reveals new targets for drug discovery that could be exploited to combat the disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is associated with molecules called amyloid in the brain, which lead to the formation of twisted fibres inside brain cells. This causes the death of brain cells which is thought to bring about the symptoms of memory loss and dementia. Although this progression of the disease has been accepted for over twenty years, the exact mechanisms remain somewhat of a mystery.
Recent studies have identified the gene for a molecule called clusterin as a factor for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Clusterin levels are also known to be high in the blood of Alzheimer’s patients from an early stage in the disease.
A team of researchers at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry looked first at mouse brain cells grown in the laboratory and found that the presence of amyloid alters the amount of clusterin in cells. Clusterin then drives the changes that are associated with the formation of tangles inside brain cells, which is another hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. When clusterin was activated, the researchers observed an increase in tangle formation and evidence of cognitive defects.
Professor Simon Lovestone, Director of Research at King’s Health Partners, led the study. He said: “We have shown that we can block the toxic effects of amyloid when we stop this signalling pathway in brain cells grown in the lab. We believe that if we could block its activity in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients too, we may have an opportunity to halt the disease in man. Indeed, we have already begun our own drug development programme to do just that and are at the stage where potential compounds are coming back to us for further testing.”
Current treatments for Alzheimer’s are focused on alleviating the symptoms and there is no therapy that can prevent the progression of disease. Read more about this research on the King’s College London website here.