Tag Archives: Alzheimer’s

Researchers have discovered a gene signature in healthy brains that echoes the pattern in which Alzheimer’s disease spreads through the brain much later in life. The findings, published in the journal Science Advances, could help uncover the molecular origins of this devastating disease, and may be used to develop preventative treatments for at-risk individuals to be taken well before symptoms appear.

The results identified a specific signature of a group of genes in the regions of the brain which are most vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease. They found that these parts of the brain are vulnerable because the body’s defence mechanisms against the proteins partly responsible for Alzheimer’s disease are weaker in these areas.

The results imply that healthy young individuals with an aberrant form of this specific gene signature may be more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease in later life, and would most benefit from preventative treatments, if and when they are developed for human use.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is characterised by the progressive degeneration of the brain. Not only is the disease currently incurable, but its molecular origins are still unknown. Degeneration in Alzheimer’s disease follows a characteristic pattern: starting from the entorhinal region and spreading out to all neocortical areas. What researchers have long wondered is why certain parts of the brain are more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease than others.

One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease is the build-up of protein deposits, known as plaques and tangles, in the brains of affected individuals. These deposits, which accumulate when naturally-occurring proteins in the body fold into the wrong shape and stick together, are formed primarily of two proteins: amyloid-beta and tau.

The researchers found that part of the answer lay within the mechanism of control of amyloid-beta and tau. Through the analysis of more than 500 samples of healthy brain tissues from the Allen Brain Atlas, they identified a signature of a group of genes in healthy brains. When compared with tissue from Alzheimer’s patients, the researchers found that this same pattern is repeated in the way the disease spreads in the brain.

Our body has a number of effective defence mechanisms that protect it against protein aggregation, but as we age, these defences get weaker, which is why Alzheimer’s generally occurs in later life. As these defence mechanisms, collectively known as protein homeostasis systems, get progressively impaired with age, proteins are able to form more and more aggregates, starting from the tissues where protein homeostasis is not so strong in the first place.

Earlier this year, the same researchers behind the current study proposed that ‘neurostatins’ could be taken by healthy individuals in order to slow or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, in a similar way to how statins are taken to prevent heart disease. The current results suggest a way to exploit the gene signature to identify those individuals most at risk and who would most benefit from taking neurostatins in earlier life.

Although a neurostatin for human use is still quite some time away, a shorter-term benefit of these results may be the development of more effective animal models for the study of Alzheimer’s disease. Since the molecular origins of the disease have been unknown to date, it has been difficult to breed genetically modified mice or other animals that repeat the full pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common way for scientists to understand this or any disease in order to develop new treatments.

 

Paper: A protein homeostasis signature in healthy brains recapitulates tissue vulnerability to Alzheimer’s disease”
Reprinted from materials provided by the University of Cambridge.

Alzheimer's & DementiaThe JPND working group on vascular contributions to neurodegeneration, which was selected under the 2014 call for working groups on cohort studies, brought together 55 international experts on brain disease and dementia to survey the data from more than 90 studies, representing more than 660,000 participants.

The working group’s final results and recommendations were recently published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia. To access the full paper, “METACOHORTS for the study of vascular disease and its contribution to cognitive decline and neurodegeneration,” click here.

ActaNeuropathologicaCommunications“Revisiting rodent models: Octodon degus as Alzheimer’s disease model?” has been published in Acta Neuropathologica Communications. This research was supported in part by JPND through the NeuroGem project, selected under the 2013 cross-disease analysis call, and the PROP-AD project, selected under the 2015 JPco-fuND call.

A research project has shown that an experimental model of Alzheimer’s disease can be successfully treated with a commonly used anti-inflammatory drug.

Nearly everybody will at some point in their lives take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; mefenamic acid, a common Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drug (NSAID), is routinely used for period pain.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

Though this is the first time a drug has been shown to target this inflammatory pathway, highlighting its importance in the disease model, the researchers caution that more research is needed to identify its impact on humans, and the long-term implications of its use.

The research paves the way for human trials, which the team hope to conduct in the future.

In the study, transgenic mice that develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease were used. One group of 10 mice was treated with mefenamic acid, and 10 mice were treated in the same way with a placebo.

The mice were treated at a time when they had developed memory problems and the drug was given to them by a mini-pump implanted under the skin for one month.

Memory loss was completely reversed back to the levels seen in mice without the disease.

“These promising lab results identify a class of existing drugs that have potential to treat Alzheimer’s disease by blocking a particular part of the immune response,” said Dr. Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society.

Paper: “Fenamate NSAIDs inhibit the NLRP3 inflammasome and protect against Alzheimer’s disease in rodent models”
Reprinted from materials provided by the University of Manchester.

Aducanumab, an antibody developed by the University of Zurich, has been shown to trigger a meaningful reduction of harmful beta-amyloid plaques in patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. These protein deposits in the brain are a classic sign of Alzheimer’s disease and contribute to the progressive degeneration of brain cells. The researchers furthermore demonstrated in an early-stage clinical study that, after one year of treatment with Aducanumab, cognitive decline could be significantly slowed in antibody-treated patients as opposed to the placebo group.

Although the causes of Alzheimer’s disease are still unknown, it is clear that the disease commences with progressive amyloid deposition in the brains of affected persons between ten and fifteen years before the emergence of initial clinical symptoms such as memory loss. Researchers have now been able to show that Aducanumab, a human monoclonal antibody, selectively binds brain amyloid plaques, thus enabling microglial cells to remove the plaques. A one-year treatment with the antibody, as part of a phase Ib study, resulted in almost complete clearance of the brain amyloid plaques in the study group patients. The results, which were realized by researchers at UZH together with the biotech company “Biogen” and the UZH spin-off “Neurimmune,” have been published in Nature.

Reduction of brain amyloid plaque is dependent on treatment duration and dosage

“The results of this clinical study make us optimistic that we can potentially make a great step forward in treating Alzheimer’s disease,” says Roger M. Nitsch, professor at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at UZH. “The effect of the antibody is very impressive. And the outcome is dependent on the dosage and length of treatment.” After one year of treatment, practically no beta-amyloid plaques could be detected in the patients who received the highest dose of the antibody.

The antibody was developed with the help of a technology platform from “Neurimmune.” Using blood collected from elderly persons aged up to one hundred and demonstrating no cognitive impairment, the researchers isolated precisely those immune cells whose antibodies are able to identify toxic beta-amyloid plaques but not the amyloid precursor protein that is present throughout the human body and that presumably plays an important role in the growth of nerve cells. The good safety profile of Aducanumab in patients may well be attributed to the antibody’s specific capacity to bond with the abnormally folded beta-amyloid protein fragment as well as the fact that the antibody is of human origin.

Investigational treatment also curbs cognitive decline

165 patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease were treated in the phase 1b clinical trial. Although not initially planned as a primary study objective, the good results encouraged researchers to additionally investigate how the treatment affected the symptoms of disease. This was evaluated via standardized questionnaires to assess the cognitive abilities and everyday activities of the patients. “Aducanumab also showed positive effects on clinical symptoms,” is how Nitsch sums up the findings. “While patients in the placebo group exhibited significant cognitive decline, cognitive ability remained distinctly more stable in patients receiving the antibody.”

Some of the trial participants temporarily suffered from amyloid-related imaging abnormality (ARIA), an adverse effect that can be detected via magnetic resonance imaging. In a minority of cases, this was accompanied by temporary mild to moderate headaches. The UZH researchers believe that ARIA is a measurable biological effect of amyloid clearance.

The promising effects of Aducanumab are currently being investigated in two large phase-three clinical studies to further evaluate safety and efficacy. Involving over 300 centers in 20 countries throughout North America, Europe, and Asia, these studies are evaluating the effectiveness and safety of the antibody on a total of 2,700 patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

Paper: “The antibody aducanumab reduces Aβ plaques in Alzheimer’s disease”
Reprinted from materials provided by the University of Zurich.

 

A new study has found that a healthy diet, regular physical activity and a normal body mass index can reduce the incidence of protein build-ups that are associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

In the study, 44 adults ranging in age from 40 to 85 (mean age: 62.6) with mild memory changes but no dementia underwent an experimental type of PET scan to measure the level of plaque and tangles in the brain. Researchers also collected information on participants’ body mass index, levels of physical activity, diet and other lifestyle factors. Plaque, deposits of a toxic protein called beta-amyloid in the spaces between nerve cells in the brain; and tangles, knotted threads of the tau protein found within brain cells, are considered the key indicators of Alzheimer’s.

The study, published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, found that each one of several lifestyle factors — a healthy body mass index, physical activity and a Mediterranean diet — were linked to lower levels of plaques and tangles on the brain scans. (The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals and fish and low in meat and dairy, and characterized by a high ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fats, and mild to moderate alcohol consumption.)

Earlier studies have linked a healthy lifestyle to delays in the onset of Alzheimer’s. However, the new study is the first to demonstrate how lifestyle factors directly influence abnormal proteins in people with subtle memory loss who have not yet been diagnosed with dementia. Healthy lifestyle factors also have been shown to be related to reduced shrinking of the brain and lower rates of atrophy in people with Alzheimer’s.

The next step in the research will be to combine imaging with intervention studies of diet, exercise and other modifiable lifestyle factors, such as stress and cognitive health.

Reprinted from materials provided by UCLA.

For decades, scientists have known that people with two copies of a gene called apolipoprotein E4 (ApoE4) are much more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease at age 65 than the rest of the population. Now, researchers have identified a connection between ApoE4 and protein build-up associated with Alzheimer’s that provides a possible biochemical explanation for how extra ApoE4 causes the disease.

Their findings, which appear in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, underscore the importance of looking at genes and proteins not classically associated with Alzheimer’s to make progress in understanding the disease.

Late-onset Alzheimer’s disease — the subset of the disorder occurring in people age 65 and over — affects more than 5 million Americans, and is characterized by progressive memory loss and dementia. Scientists have put forth a variety of hypotheses on its causes, including the accumulation of protein clusters called beta-amyloid plaques and tau tangles in the brain.

Apolipoprotein E comes in three versions, or variants, called ApoE2, ApoE3 and ApoE4. All the ApoE proteins have the same normal function: carrying fats, cholesterols and vitamins throughout the body, including into the brain. While ApoE2 is protective and ApoE3 appears to have no effect, a mutation in ApoE4 is a well-established genetic risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Previous reports have suggested that ApoE4 may affect how the brain clears out beta-amyloid, but what was happening at the molecular level wasn’t clear.

Scientists had previously uncovered hints that ApoE4 might degrade differently than the other variants, but the protein that carried out this breakdown of ApoE4 was unknown.

To find the protein responsible for degrading ApoE4, the researchers screened tissues for potential suspects and homed in on one enzyme called high-temperature requirement serine peptidase A1 (HtrA1).

When they compared how HtrA1 degraded ApoE4 with ApoE3, they found that the enzyme processed more ApoE4 than ApoE3, chewing ApoE4 into smaller, less stable fragments. The researchers confirmed the observation in both isolated proteins and human cells. The finding suggests that people with ApoE4 could have less ApoE overall in their brain cells — and more of the breakdown products of the protein.

But it’s not just a lack of full-length ApoE or an increase in its fragments that may be causing Alzheimer’s in people with ApoE4. The researchers also found that ApoE4 — because it binds so well to HtrA1 — keeps the enzyme from breaking down the tau protein, responsible for tau tangles associated with Alzheimer’s.

The results need be tested and confirmed in animal studies before researchers can be sure that HtrA1 is the link between ApoE4 and Alzheimer’s in humans. But if they hold true, they could point toward a better understanding of the disease and potential new treatment strategies.

Paper: “HtrA1 Proteolysis of ApoE In Vitro Is Allele Selective”
Reprinted from materials provided by the Salk Institute.