For the first time, scientists have found a natural protein produced in the brain can block a key enzyme involved in the onset of Alzheimer's disease.
The finding, reported by University of California-Los Angeles researchers in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, could lead to the development of new drugs to treat the disease.
The protein fragment, sAPPα, inhibits the proteolytic enzyme BACE1, which — at increased levels — contributes to production of the amyloid beta plaques that are the hallmark of Alzheimer's.
"Because sAPPα inhibits the BACE1 enzyme, it may be possible that it can be used to help prevent potentially dangerous increases in BACE1 activity, and thus prevent the onset of Alzheimer's disease," said lead researcher Varghese John, associate professor of neurology at UCLA.
Alzheimer's is the most common form dementia and the number of cases in the United States is expected to increase from about five to million to 15 million by 2050. Alzheimer's and other dementias costs the United States $226 billion each year, with that number projected to crest $1.1 trillion in 2050.
There are no effective treatment or prevention strategies for Alzheimer's, and the available drugs merely delay or reduce symptoms temporarily.
"Our study suggests that developing sAPPα itself as a biologic, finding a smaller protein or peptide fragment that has similar effects, or identifying a chemical compound that increases levels of this beneficial protein fragment could be new and effective therapeutic strategies for mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's patients," John said. "These strategies could help normalize brain function and either restore memory and cognitive function, or prevent its decline."
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