An international research team led by a Belgian lab has discovered a way to reverse memory loss in degenerative neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s, according to an article published in the journal Neuron.
A number of neurological conditions are caused by the accumulation of proteins, including a protein known as tau, at nerve endings. But before that accumulation takes place, according to Professor Patrik Verstreken of the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) and the KU Leuven Centre for Brain & Disease Research, there appear signs of an infection, and the connections between nerve cells are already damaged.
The aim of the team, working together with the UK Dementia Research Institute, was to look into how disturbances in the communication between nerve cells leads in the end to catastrophic memory loss.
They turned their attention to another protein, Synaptogyrin-3, which interacts with tau at the nerve endings.
“Synaptogyrin-3 can only be found at the nerve endings, and so – we reasoned – if we turn off that protein, we can immediately turn off tau, precisely and only at those places in the nerve cells,” explained Pablo Largo-Barrientos, a member of the team.
In testing on mice, the team ‘switched off’ the Synaptogyrin-3, and the damage to the nerve connections was avoided. Tau by itself could not cause the same damage as the two proteins working together.
“This is the first time we have succeeded in reversing the effects of tau by intervening at the level of the nerve endings,” said Prof Verstreken.
“In the next step, we will develop ways to reduce the amount of Synaptogyrin-3 through medication. We are already developing medication based on technology already used in gene therapy. These are pieces of DNA molecules that must prevent the protein Synaptogyrin-3 from being expressed.”
The research is funded by the VIB, the European Commission and the US non-profit Alzheimer’s Association.