EurekAlert (March 15, 2010): Fruit Flies and Test Tubes Open New Window on Alzheimer's Disease

Publication Date: 
Mon, 03/15/2010

A team of scientists from Cambridge and Sweden have discovered a molecule that can prevent a toxic protein involved in Alzheimer's disease from building up in the brain. Dr. Leila Luheshi, of the Department of Genetics at University of Cambridge, et al. found that in test tube studies, the molecule not only prevents the protein from forming clumps but can also reverse the potentially toxic process. Then, using fruit flies engineered to develop a fly equivalent of Alzheimer's disease, they showed that the same molecule effectively "cures" the insects of the disease. This study will be published next week in PLoS Biology.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common neurodegenerative disorder and is linked to the misfolding and aggregation of a small protein known as the amyloid Beta (A-Beta) peptide. Previous studies in animal models have shown that aggregation of A-beta damages neurons (a type of brain cell), causing memory impairment and cognitive deficits similar to those seen in patients with Alzheimer's disease. The mechanisms underlying this damage are, however, still not fully understood.

The new molecule - designed by scientists in Sweden - is a small protein known as an Affibody (a protein engineered to bind other proteins). In this new study, researchers at the University of Cambridge and the Sweden University of Agricultural Sciences found that in test-tube experiments, this protein binds to the A-beta peptide, preventing it from forming clumps and breaking any clumps already present.