Researchers in the US and Italy have linked an unlikely protein to Alzheimer’s disease protection in mice. The transthyretin (TTR) protein can clump together abnormally in body to cause rare life-limiting diseases, but the team has identified a mechanism through which is may protect nerve cells from Alzheimer’s. The research is published on 21 May in the Journal of Neuroscience.
While TTR is known to be produced in liver cells, previous research had suggested the protein may also be able to protect nerve cells from damage in Alzheimer’s. The researchers from the Scripps Research Institute in California and the University of Siena in Italy set out to study the molecular mechanisms behind this protection. To do this, they analysed the TTR gene and found that it can be controlled differently in different cells of the body.
In nerve cells, but not in liver cells, TTR could be switched on in response to cell stress by a protein called heat shock factor 1. Higher levels of TTR were also found in brain cells taken from mice bred to have features of Alzheimer’s compared to healthy mice.
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“Research is showing that Alzheimer’s is caused by complex molecular events in the brain and it is important to piece together these events and identify the key players in the disease. Molecular studies like this can help researchers to identify potential targets for new treatments but this research is at an early stage and will need further investigation in people.
“Cell stress seems to have a role to play in Alzheimer’s and this research suggests a chain of events that could be involved. It is interesting that a protein that can be harmful in some diseases could be protective in others and highlights the complexity of the human body and the challenges facing dementia research. We must continue to invest in research into the causes of Alzheimer’s if we are to make progress for those affected by this disease.”