Researchers at Yale School of Medicine in the US have discovered a new experimental drug which could potentially be investigated as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. The compound targets a protein found in brain cells called STEP which is over-active in Alzheimer’s. Treatment with this drug was able to improve memory and thinking skills in mice. The study is published on 5 August in the journal PLoS Biology.
STEP is found mostly in the brain and is involved in a process called synaptic strengthening which reinforces the communication points between nerve cells – called synapses. This process allows brain cells to convert short term memories into long term ones. STEP works by turning off the proteins responsible for synaptic strengthening. As STEP is over-active in Alzheimer’s and other neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia, this could prevent synaptic strengthening from happening and lead to the memory problems associated with these conditions.
After searching through thousands of experimental compounds, the researchers identified one called TC-2153 which could prevent STEP over-activity in cells. The compound was tested in mice that showed symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Mice that were treated with the drug were able to perform better in memory and learning tests than those who had not been treated with TC-2153.
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“This study in mice suggests that targeting STEP could be a possible approach for the treatment for Alzheimer’s. This research is at a very early stage and studies involving mice do not always hold true in people. It is too soon to tell whether using this drug or others targeting STEP would be beneficial for people with Alzheimer’s or other illnesses but it’s an interesting lead to follow.
“Understanding more about STEP could shed light on the underlying molecular causes of Alzheimer’s and other neurological conditions and allow researchers to identify new targets for treatment. With more than 23 million people in the UK touched by the effects of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, there is a desperate need to find new and effective treatments.”