Using a drug compound created to treat cancer, neurobiologists have disarmed the brain’s response to the distinctive beta-amyloid plaques that are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers found that flushing away the abundant inflammatory cells produced in reaction to beta-amyloid plaques restored memory function in test mice. Their study showed that these cells, called microglia, contribute to the neuronal and memory deficits seen in this neurodegenerative disease. Results appear online in the journal Brain.
The neurobiologists treated Alzheimer’s disease model mice with a small-molecule inhibitor compound called pexidartinib, or PLX3397, which is currently being used in several phase 2 oncology studies and a phase 3 clinical trial to treat a benign neoplasm of the joints.
The inhibitor works by selectively blocking signaling of microglial surface receptors, known as colony-stimulating factor 1 receptors, which are necessary for microglial survival and proliferation in response to various stimuli, including beta-amyloid. This led to a dramatic reduction of these inflammatory cells, allowing for analysis of their role in Alzheimer’s. The researchers noted a lack of neuron death and improved memory and cognition in the pexidartinib-treated mice, along with renewed growth of dendritic spines that enable brain neurons to communicate.
Although the compound swept away microglia, the beta-amyloid remained, raising new questions about the part these plaques play in Alzheimer’s neurodegenerative process.
In healthy tissue, microglia act as the first and main form of immune defense in the central nervous system. But in a disease state, such as Alzheimer’s, microglia appear to turn against the healthy tissue they were originally assigned to protect, causing inflammation in the brain. The beta-amyloid plaques in brain areas related to Alzheimer’s disease are rich with these rogue microglia.
Source: University of California, Irvine