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To mark the half-way point of the three-year projects funded in 2015 for the JPco-fuND call, the project coordinators of the 21 projects met for a two-day symposium in The Hague to learn about each other’s work, strengthen existing ties and build new relationships to further enhance research into neurodegenerative diseases. This meeting was a unique opportunity for each researcher to discover the wide variety and the cutting-edge level of the projects, raising new perspectives for all of them.

The researchers, whose projects focus on diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases to rarer maladies such as Huntington’s disease, ALS, SCA3 and PolyQ, were invited to give brief seven-minute presentations on their work. The presentations were followed by lively Q&A sessions moderated by JPND representatives including Thomas Gasser, Myrra Vernooij-Dassen, Philippe Amouyel and Jesus de Pedro.

The scientific sessions were complemented with an informative seminar on data management and data sharing.  The seminar highlighted the importance—and the difficulties—of collecting, storing and sharing data. The second day featured a presentation of JPND’s most recent tools, the Experimental Models in Parkinson’s site, the Global Cohort Portal and the research funding database.

After each of the four scientific sessions, participants had the chance to network during coffee breaks and meals, as well as tour the poster presentations given by a young scientist from each consortium. “The role of JPND is to bring together scientists to encourage the cross-pollination of ideas and to favour new collaborations, allowing them to share the latest advancements in their fields and build relationships that will strengthen their research now and in the future,” said Philippe Amouyel, Chair of JPND.

Whilst several project consortia are already collaborating, the Symposium offered participants a host of networking opportunities, as well as a unique chance to get a glimpse of each other’s work and progress and encouraged researchers to further explore new ways to collaborate and connect.  As a result, the Symposium proved to be an enriching experience for all. The Final Symposium, where each project will report on the final results of their three years of work, is slated to take place in 2019.

For details on the JPco-fuND projects, click here.

To learn more about the progress of the JPco-fuND projects, read the presentation abstracts here.

Scientists have published a proof-of-concept study in the journal Neurobiology of Disease demonstrating that an antidepressant drug which has been on the market for more than 50 years could slow the progression of Parkinson’s.

The drug nortriptyline, which has been used to treat depression and nerve pain, stopped the growth of abnormal proteins that can build up in the brain and lead to the development of the disease.

Researchers began by examining previous patient data to see if individuals who were on antidepressants started a standard Parkinson’s therapy called levodopa later than those not taking the antidepressant. Levodopa increases levels of dopamine, a natural chemical in the body that sends signals to other nerve cells, which is usually significantly decreased in people with Parkinson’s. The medication also alleviates symptoms of the disease such as tremors and poor muscle control.

The researchers observed that people on tricyclic antidepressants did not need levodopa until much later, compared to patients not taking a tricyclic for depression.

Researchers then began testing rats with the tricyclic antidepressant nortriptyline and observed that it decreased the amount of alpha-synuclein, an abnormal protein that can build up in the brain and cause nerve cells to die. Alpha-synuclein buildup is a hallmark of Parkinson’s diease.

Finally, the scientists added nortriptyline to alpha-synuclein proteins in a test tube model and observed that the addition of the antidepressant caused the proteins to move and change shape more rapidly, preventing them from clumping together.

To further back up his research, he enlisted the help of his colleague and co-author Lisa Lapidus, who in previous studies had already detected whether certain compounds could bind to alpha-synuclein and stop it from accumulating.

Understanding how these proteins can clump together could point researchers in new directions and help them find other possible drugs that could potentially treat Parkinson’s.

Paper: “Nortriptyline inhibits aggregation and neurotoxicity of alpha-synuclein by enhancing reconfiguration of the monomeric form

Reprinted from materials provided by Michigan State University.

Principal investigators representing 21 projects JPND projects will be gathering tomorrow to meet, network and  participate in panel discussions in order to learn about each other’s work and increase their collaborations so as to fight neurodegenerative diseases even more efficiently.

 

The PIs represent the projects funded under the 2015 JPco-fuND Transnational call and will meet for two days in The Hague.

 

Marking the midpoint of the research projects funded in 2015, the Symposium is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for the researchers to gather, share ideas, learn about the research of others in their field and strengthen ties.

 

Young scientists from each research consortium will also have the opportunity to present a poster related to their consortium’s work during the symposium.

 

Click here for details on the projects funded by the 2015 JPco-fuND Transnational call.

The protein amyloid beta is believed to be a major cause of Alzheimer’s disease. BACE inhibitors, which reduce the production of amyloid beta are therefore promising candidates for new drug treatments. A research team has recently demonstrated that one such BACE inhibitor reduces the amount of amyloid beta in the brain, restoring the normal function of nerve cells and improving memory performance. The team’s findings were published in the journal PNAS.

Using a mouse model of Alzheimer’s, the researchers tested a substance that inhibits beta secretase. In mice, as in humans, the disease causes amyloid beta plaques in the brain, which cause memory loss. In the study, mice were examined after having received the inhibitor in their food for up to eight weeks. Researchers observed individual nerve cells in the brain using an imaging technique called two-photon microscopy.

After the course of treatment, the mice had less amyloid beta in their brain, an unsurprising finding as its production was inhibited. However, their brain functions also normalised, with fewer hyperactive nerve cells and slow-wave brain patterns that were similar to those in healthy mice. Researchers also observed that the animals’ memory improved, with the treated mice finding a hidden platform in a water-filled maze as quickly as their healthy counterparts.

The scientists’ findings will soon find its way into clinical practice: a large-scale clinical trial is planned with around 1000 participants to test a slightly modified form of the BACE inhibitor.

Paper:“BACE inhibition-dependent repair of Alzheimer’s pathophysiology

Reprinted from materials provided by TUM.

While memory and learning as people age have been intensively studied, changes in how people map their surroundings and construct and follow directions are not well understood.  Now a review published in the journal Neuron discusses the possibility that age-related declines in navigational ability could contribute to tools for the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Today, Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed using factors such as medical history, genetic risk factors and performance on tests that measure memory, language and reasoning impairments. However the research team suggests that navigational impairments are among the earliest signs of the Alzheimer’s progression. According to the scientists, abnormal results on standard cognitive tests may only show up 10 years after the onset of Alzheimer’s. A navigation-based diagnostic test could reduce that window.

Navigational testing is held back by the lack of standard tests for navigational tasks and population norms with which to evaluate results. Now, more-affordable and portable virtual reality technology means it is possible to develop standardised tests. The second challenge is that navigational abilities vary greatly between individuals, meaning an effective diagnostic tool would need to track an individual’s navigational capabilities over the course of their life to identify signs of early or accelerated decline.

With such data and the improved virtual reality setups, the researchers conclude that a navigational test battery analogous to those used for memory and learning will be feasible.

 

Paper: “The Aging Navigational System”.

Reprinted from materials provided by Cell Press.

A gene called ” triggering receptor expressed on myeloid cells 2”, or TREM2, has been associated with a variety of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Frontotemporal lobar degeneration, Parkinson’s disease, and Nasu-Hakola disease. Recently, a rare mutation in the gene has been shown to increase the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Independently from each other, two research groups have now revealed the molecular mechanism behind this mutation. Their research, published in EMBO Molecular Medicine, sheds light on the role of TREM2 in normal brain function and suggests a new therapeutic target in Alzheimer’s disease treatment.

Alzheimer’s disease, like other neurodegenerative diseases, is characterized by the accumulation of specific protein aggregates in the brain. Specialized brain immune cells called microglia strive to counter this process by engulfing the toxic buildup. But as the brain ages, microglia eventually fail to eliminate all the damaging material.

TREM2 is active on microglia and enables them to carry out their protective function. The protein spans the microglia cell membrane and uses its external region to detect dying cells or lipids associated with toxic protein aggregates. Subsequently, TREM2 is cut in two. The external part is shed from the protein and released, while the remaining part still present in the cell membrane is degraded. To better understand TREM2 function, the two research groups took a closer look at its cleavage.

Using different approaches, both groups first determined the exact site of protein shedding and found it to be at amino acid 157. Amino acid 157 was recently found to be the position of a mutation which increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. These observations indicate that protein cleavage is perturbed in the p.H157 mutant and that this alteration promotes disease development.

Next, each group investigated the biochemical properties of the p.H157Y mutant protein more closely. They found that the mutant was cleaved more rapidly than a healthy version of the protein.

While most TREM2 mutations affect protein production, the mechanism behind p.H157Y is somewhat different. The p.H157Y mutation allows the protein to be correctly manufactured and transported to the microglia cell surface, but then it is cleaved too quickly. As a result, there is too little full-length TREM protein on microglia, which suggests that stabilising TREM2 to make it less susceptible to cleavage may be a viable therapeutic strategy.

Papers: “TREM2 shedding by cleavage at the H157‐S158 bond is accelerated for the Alzheimer’s disease‐associated H157Y variant” and “An Alzheimer‐associated TREM2 variant occurs at the ADAM cleavage site and affects shedding and phagocytic function

Reprinted from materials provided by EMBO.

The EU Joint Programme – Neurodegenerative Disease Research (JPND) will shortly launch a call for “Multinational research projects on Health and Social Care for Neurodegenerative Diseases”.

There are an estimated 47 million people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders worldwide. This figure is expected to double every 20 years as the population ages.  As of today, neurodegenerative diseases are debilitating and still largely untreatable conditions.

Providing appropriate health and social care represents an increasingly significant responsibility for people who live with such diseases as well as their relatives and carers. Novel health and social care concepts focus on what people still can contribute in the context of the disease and how their environment may influence this process. Nevertheless, the availability and quality of health and social care services vary considerably across Europe and beyond.

Therefore, JPND will launch a call for multidisciplinary proposals that focus on one or several of the following research areas:

  • Care pathways and programmes using the potential of patient involvement
  • Factors influencing progression and prognosis of disease
  • Outcome measures for patients and their informal carers
  • Palliative care of patients
  • Cost-effectiveness and affordability of interventions including ethical concerns

 

The following neurodegenerative diseases are included in the call:

  • Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias
  • Parkinson’s disease and PD‐related disorders
  • Prion diseases
  • Motor neuron diseases
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Spinocerebellar ataxia (SCA)
  • Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA)

This will be a two-step call, expected to be launched in early January 2018, with a likely pre-proposal submission deadline in March 2018. Further details will be provided with the official launch of the call.

Please Note:

All information regarding future JPND call topics is subject to change

Final call information will be published on the JPND website (jpnd.eu)