Yearly Archives: 2015

Scientists have uncovered a mechanism in the brain that could account for some of the neural degeneration and memory loss in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers discovered that a common symptom of Alzheimer’s disease – the accumulation of amyloid plaques along blood vessels – could be disrupting blood flow in the brain. The results were published in the journal Brain.

The team discovered that the blood flow regulation of astrocytes — the most populous cell type in the brain — is disrupted by plaques formed of misfolded amyloid protein around blood vessels. In a healthy brain, amyloid protein fragments are routinely broken down and eliminated.

The presence of amyloid proteins around blood vessels in the brain is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, yet it wasn’t understood if the proteins did any harm. Now, the research team has found that they do.

“We found that amyloid deposits separated astrocytes from the blood vessel wall,” said Stefanie Robel, a research assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and a coauthor of the paper. “We also found that these amyloid deposits form an exoskeleton around the blood vessels, a kind of cast that reduces the pliability of the vessels.”

The exoskeleton is known as a vascular amyloid. Its inelasticity might result in lower blood flow, which could account for Alzheimer’s symptoms, such as memory lapses, impaired decision-making, and personality changes.


Source: Virginia Tech News

The unwanted formation of blood vessels — angiogenesis — in the brain is likely to be the cause of intractable walking and balance difficulties for people who suffer from Parkinson’s disease, according to new research.

Many people with Parkinson’s disease eventually experience walking and balance difficulties, despite adequate medication. Moreover, some patients cannot fully take dopamine-based medication, as dopamine can lead to side effects.

The current research findings verify similar data from a previous study by other researchers, which was performed on brain tissue from a small number of deceased patients.

“The strength of our study is the number of participants, and the fact that they are alive. Because many suffer from several parallel diseases at the final stage of their lives, it is difficult to analyse samples from deceased persons”, explains Oskar Hansson, reader at Lund University and consultant at Skåne University Hospital.

The findings, published in the journal Neurology, were made when the researchers used a broad approach when looking for mechanisms to increase understanding of how Parkinson’s disease works. “The measurements showed clear connections between markers of angiogenesis in the brain and walking or balance difficulties among the participants. We also noted an increased permeability of the blood-brain barrier, which leads to blood components potentially leaking into the brain and causing damage”, says Oskar Hansson.

Source: Lund University

As we age or develop neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, our brain cells may not produce sufficient energy to remain fully functional. Researchers have discovered that an enzyme called SIRT3 that is located in mitochondria — the cell’s powerhouse — may protect mice brains against the kinds of stresses believed to contribute to energy loss. Furthermore, mice that ran on a wheel increased their levels of this protective enzyme.

Researchers used a new animal model to investigate whether they could aid neurons in resisting the energy-depleting stress caused by neurotoxins and other factors. They found the following:

  • Mice models that did not produce SIRT3 became highly sensitive to stress when exposed to neurotoxins that cause neurodegeneration and epileptic seizures.
  • Running wheel exercise increased the amount of SIRT3 in neurons of normal mice and protected them against degeneration; in those lacking the enzyme, running failed to protect the neurons.
  • Neurons could be protected against stress through use of a gene therapy technology to increase levels of SIRT3 in neurons.

These findings suggest that bolstering mitochondrial function and stress resistance by increasing SIRT3 levels may offer a promising therapeutic target for protecting against age-related cognitive decline and brain diseases.  The research team report their findings online Nov. 19 in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine

The blood-brain barrier has been non-invasively opened in a patient for the first time. Scientists used focused ultrasound to enable temporary and targeted opening of the blood-brain barrier (BBB).

Opening the blood-brain barrier in a localized region to deliver chemotherapy to a tumor is a predicate for utilizing focused ultrasound for the delivery of other drugs, DNA-loaded nanoparticles, viral vectors, and antibodies to the brain to treat a range of neurological conditions, including various types of brain tumors, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and some psychiatric diseases.

The team infused the chemotherapy agent doxorubicin, along with tiny gas-filled bubbles, into the bloodstream of a patient with a brain tumor. They then applied focused ultrasound to areas in the tumor and surrounding brain, causing the bubbles to vibrate, loosening the tight junctions of the cells comprising the blood-brain barrier and allowing high concentrations of the chemotherapy to enter targeted tissues.

While the current trial is a first-in-human achievement, Dr. Kullervo Hynynen, senior scientist at the Sunnybrook Research Institute, has been performing similar pre-clinical studies for about a decade. His research has shown that the combination of focused ultrasound and microbubbles may not only enable drug delivery, but might also stimulate the brain’s natural responses to fight disease. For example, the temporary opening of the blood-brain barrier appears to facilitate the brain’s clearance of a key pathologic protein related to Alzheimer’s and improves cognitive function.

Source: Focused Ultrasound Foundation

Researchers are proposing a new way of understanding Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), the devastating and incurable neurological disease. Their findings, published in the journal Neuron, could be a major milestone on the path to a treatment for both ALS and dementia.

By delving into a previously overlooked corner of ALS research, the team discovered a new way in which the disease kills nerve cells.

Many cases of ALS are sparked by a toxic build-up of certain proteins, which cause neurons in the brain and spinal cord to die. Over the last decade, mutations that cause ALS have been found in a growing number of genes that encode RNA-binding proteins. The protein they create commonly builds up inside the diseased brain and spinal cords in ALS patients. Until now, scientists haven’t thought this build-up was important to the disease process because it looked different from the types of protein accumulations — such as tau, amyloid and alpha synuclein — that are clearly toxic and always found in patients with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and some forms of dementia.

The research team decided to take a closer look at these seemingly innocuous protein accumulations. They focused initially on the FUS protein, and discovered that these abnormal clumps could actually be a very important player in causing nerve cell damage and ALS. The research team found that mutations in FUS changed the property of FUS protein so that it tends to form very dense gels that do not easily re-melt and release their cargo appropriately. As a result, it’s unable to deliver the tools necessary for the neurons to stay healthy and do their job.

The next step is for researchers to find ways to prevent the solidification of the gel, or to reverse the hardening process, offering a key to a future drug to treat ALS and frontotemporal dementia — another disease in which the protein is active.

Source: University of Toronto

A new study finds that a component of aspirin binds to an enzyme called GAPDH, which is believed to play a major role in neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases.

Researchers discovered that salicylic acid, the primary breakdown product of aspirin, binds to GAPDH, thereby stopping it from moving into a cell’s nucleus, where it can trigger the cell’s death. The study, which appears in the journal PLOS ONE, also suggests that derivatives of salicylic acid may hold promise for treating multiple neurodegenerative diseases.

The researchers performed high-throughput screens to identify proteins in the human body that bind to salicylic acid. GAPDH, (Glyceraldehyde 3-Phosphate Dehydrogenase), is a central enzyme in glucose metabolism, but plays additional roles in the cell. Under oxidative stress—an excess of free radicals and other reactive compounds—GAPDH is modified and then enters the nucleus of neurons, where it enhances protein turnover, leading to cell death.

The anti-Parkinson’s drug deprenyl blocks GAPDH’s entry into the nucleus and the resulting cell death. The researchers discovered that salicylic acid also is effective at stopping GAPDH from moving into the nucleus and preventing cell death.

“The enzyme GAPDH, long thought to function solely in glucose metabolism, is now known to participate in intracellular signaling,” said co-author Solomon Snyder, professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “The new study establishes that GAPDH is a target for salicylate drugs related to aspirin, and hence may be relevant to the therapeutic actions of such drugs.”

Source: Boyce Thompson Institute

A study of the brains of mice shows that structural deterioration associated with old age can be prevented by long-term aerobic exercise starting in mid-life, according to a research article published in PLOS Biology. Researchers found that structural changes that make the blood-brain barrier leaky and result in inflammation of brain tissues in old mice can be mitigated by allowing the animals to run regularly, so providing a potential explanation for the beneficial effects of exercise on dementia in humans.

Physical activity is already known to ameliorate the cognitive decline and sensorimotor deficits seen in old age in humans as well as in mice. To investigate the impact of long-term physical exercise on the brain changes seen in the aging mice, the researchers provided the animals with a running wheel from 12 months old (equivalent to middle aged in humans) and assessed their brains at 18 months (equivalent to ~60yrs old in humans, when the risk of Alzheimer’s disease is greatly increased). Young and old mice alike ran about two miles per night, and this physical activity improved the ability and motivation of the old mice to engage in the typical spontaneous behaviors that seem to be affected by aging. This exercise significantly reduced age-related pericyte loss in the brain cortex and improved other indicators of dysfunction of the vascular system and blood-brain barrier.

Source: PLOS Biology

Investigators have discovered a mechanism behind the spread of neurofibrillary tangles – one of the two hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease – through the brains of affected individuals. In a report in the journal Nature Communications, researchers describe finding that a particular version of the tau protein, while extremely rare even in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, is able to spread from one neuron to another and how that process occurs.

“It has been postulated that tangles – the abnormal accumulation of tau protein that fills neurons in Alzheimer’s disease – can travel from neuron to neuron as the disease progresses, spreading dysfunction through the brain as the disease progresses. But how that happens has been uncertain,” said Bradley Hyman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Massachusetts General Hospital  (MGH) Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and senior author of the report. “Our current study suggests one mechanism at play is that a unique and rare type of tau has the properties we were looking for – it is released from neurons, taken up by other neurons, transported up and down axons, and then released again.”

The current study revealed that, when brain samples from that mouse model were applied to cultured neurons, only 1 percent of the tau in those samples was taken up by the neurons. The tau proteins that were taken up were high molecular weight – meaning that a number of smaller proteins are bound together into a larger molecule – soluble, and studded with a large number of phosphate molecules, a known characteristic of the tau in Alzheimer’s-associated tangles.  Similar results were seen in experiments using brain samples from Alzheimer’s patients, both in cultured neurons and in living mice.

Source: Massachusetts General Hospital

New research could lead to improved methods of detection for early-onset Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Recording the responses of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) to different visual patterns, using methods adapted from the study of vision in humans, scientists investigated the nervous systems of flies with different types of Parkinson’s mutations.

The researchers compared flies carrying mutations associated with early-onset Parkinson’s with ‘normal’ control flies and found increased neuronal activity to stimulation in the former group in ‘young’ flies.

By mapping the visual responses of fruit flies with different Parkinson’s genes, the scientists built a substantial data bank of results. Using this they were able to classify unknown flies as having a Parkinson’s-related mutation with 85 per cent accuracy.

Researchers believe it may be possible to transfer this method back to the clinic where early changes in vision may provide a ‘biomarker’ allowing screening for Parkinson’s before the onset of traditional motor-symptoms. Therefore, profiling human visual responses could prove an accurate and reliable test in diagnosing people with early-onset PD.

This method is also likely to succeed when transferred to human detection of Parkinson’s, as visual profiling in humans has proved accurate in the past in detecting genetic markers. In this study, as more complex light stimulations have been used, a more accurate picture of detecting a wider variety of different genetic markers has been revealed.

Source: University of York

Alzheimer’s disease is characterised by two types of lesions, amyloid plaques and degenerated tau protein. Cholesterol plays an important role in the physiopathology of this disease. Two research teams have shown, in a rodent model, that overexpressing an enzyme that can eliminate excess cholesterol from the brain may have a beneficial action on the tau component of the disease, and completely correct it. This is the first time that a direct relationship has been shown between the tau component of Alzheimer’s disease and cholesterol. This work is published in Human Molecular Genetics.

The first step in this work made it possible to show that injecting a viral vector, AAV-CYP46A1, effectively corrects a mouse model of amyloid pathology of the disease, the APP23 mouse. CYP46A1 thus appears to be a therapeutic target for Alzheimer’s disease.

Conversely, in vivo inhibition of CYP46A1 in the mice, using antisense RNA molecules delivered by an AAV vector administered to the hippocampus, induces an increase in the production of Aß peptides, abnormal tau protein, neuronal death and hippocampal atrophy, leading to memory problems. Together these elements reproduce a phenotype mimicking Alzheimer’s disease.

These results demonstrate the key role of cholesterol in the disease, and confirm the relevance of CYP46A1 as a potential therapeutic target (work published in Brain on 3 July 2015).

Taken together, this work now enables the research team to propose a gene therapy approach for Alzheimer’s disease: intracerebral administration of a vector, AAV-CYP46A1, in patients with early and severe forms (1% of patients, familial forms) for whom there is no available treatment.

Source: Inserm