Researchers link Alzheimer's to lack of specific protein

August 16, 2011

A new clue to understanding one of the causes of Alzheimer's disease was unveiled in an article published Sunday (Aug. 14) in Nature Neuroscience online. Kara Pratt, a new faculty member in the University of Wyoming Neuroscience Center , is the study's lead investigator.

Neurons, the cells of the brain and the nervous system, are amazingly flexible and adaptable, says Pratt, who led the project as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

When proteins receive a lot of information from other neurons, they compensate by turning down their synaptic strengths ("input gain"). Conversely, Pratt says, when stimulated at lower than normal frequencies, they turn up their synaptic strengths. This is a form of neural plasticity referred to as homeostasis, which allows neurons to function stably in the midst of extreme changes in activity levels.

She says in people with Alzheimer's disease, it has been hypothesized that may lose their flexibility. The most common way in which familial (inherited) Alzheimer' disease is inherited is by a mutation in a protein called presenilin.

The researchers found that neurons that do not have presenilin are not adaptable -- are unable to change their gain -- when activity levels are altered for long periods of time. Pratt says the researchers also tested the compensatory response in neurons from engineered to express a mutated form of presenilin. These neurons also failed to adapt to changing amounts of stimulation.

"Our experiments indicate that presenilin is essential for neurons to remain adaptable," Pratt says. "Lack of this type of adaptability could contribute to underlying Alzheimer's disease."

Pratt is setting up a laboratory in the UW Department of Zoology and Physiology to study forms of neuron adaptability and other forms of in the developing visual system of the African clawed frog tadpole.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Neuroimaging categorizes four depression subtypes

December 6, 2016

Patients with depression can be categorized into four unique subtypes defined by distinct patterns of abnormal connectivity in the brain, according to new research from Weill Cornell Medicine.

Study shows regular sex improves the memory of young women

December 5, 2016

(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with McGill University in Canada has found evidence that suggests that young women who engage in frequent sex experience memory improvements. In their paper published in Archives of ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.