Researchers in Canada have identified a protein that may be able to protect against the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. The study is published on Wednesday 16 October in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Researchers led by a team at Western University, in Ontario, set out to uncover more detail about the molecular processes involved in the build-up of a toxic protein called amyloid – one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. Previous research has suggested that amyloid attaches to a second protein, prion, and that without this interaction between the two proteins, amyloid may be less toxic to nerve cells.
In their latest study, the team found that when a third protein, known as STI1, attaches to prion, the amyloid and prion proteins are prevented from binding together. Studying nerve cells from mice, they found that when STI1 levels were decreased, these cells became more susceptible to the toxic effects of a specific form of amyloid. By contrast, in nerve cells from mice with increased levels of STI1, these harmful effects were reduced.
Further investigation showed that brain samples donated by people with Alzheimer’s had greater amounts of STI1 compared to those without the disease. The researchers suggest that this increase in STI1 may form part of the brain’s natural response to amyloid build-up.
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“Understanding the molecular processes involved in Alzheimer’s is key for finding new treatment approaches, and one next step would be to further investigate what role STI1 may play in the disease. It’s not yet clear whether drugs designed to mimic STI1 would be beneficial for people with Alzheimer’s, but this study has highlighted a potential new avenue for investigation.
“Much more work is needed before we will know whether this study could lead to a new treatment for Alzheimer’s, but early stage findings like these can only be taken forward if we invest in research. With half a million people living with Alzheimer’s in the UK today, it’s vital that we step up research to understand the causes of the disease and stop it in its tracks.”