New drug target improves memory in mouse model of Alzheimer's disease

March 7, 2012, University of California - San Diego

(Medical Xpress) -- Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, the Medical University of South Carolina, the University of Cincinnati, and American Life Science Pharmaceuticals of San Diego have validated the protease cathepsin B (CatB) as a target for improving memory deficits and reducing the pathology of Alzheimer's disease (AD) in an animal model representative of most AD patients. The study has been published in the online edition of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

According to investigator Vivian Y. H. Hook, PhD, professor of the UCSD Skaggs School of Pharmacy and and professor of neurosciences, pharmacology and medicine at the UCSD School of Medicine, the study is important because it could lead to new therapeutics that improve the of AD.

Abnormal accumulation of brain amyloid-β peptides (Aβ) is thought to cause the memory loss and amyloid plaque pathology of AD. Aβ peptides are "cut" out from a larger protein called the amyloid precursor protein (APP) by an enzymatic "scissor" called β-secretase, and aggregate to form plaques in the brain regions responsible for memory. Inhibiting the β-secretase "scissors" from "cutting" the APP with a drug would reduce brain Aβ levels and thereby improve memory deficits and reduce amyloid plaque pathology. The vast majority of AD patients have wild-type (WT) β-secretase activity and thus the WT β-secretase has been a target of great interest for a long time.

Another , BACE1, has long been thought to be the β-secretase involved in AD pathology, because deleting that gene from animal models reduces brain Aβ and plaque pathology. However, deleting the BACE1 gene was reported to make memory deficits worse in a transgenic model having WT β-secretase activity.

Hook and colleagues set off to find a WT β-secretase target, which improves memory deficits while reducing amyloid plaque pathology. In the current paper, the researchers show that CatB is such a target because deleting that gene in a transgenic mouse model having WT β-secretase activity improves memory deficits and reduces amyloid plaque, which develop in this model, mimicking that found in AD. In contrast, deleting the BACE1 gene in that transgenic had no effect on memory deficits or pathology.

Explore further: Potential new drug candidate found for Alzheimer's disease

More information: Co-authors of the study were Gregory Hook, PhD, of American Life Science Pharmaceuticals in San Diego, and Mark Kindy of the Medical University of South Carolina, as well as the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, and Applied Neurotechnology, Inc., in Charleston, SC; Jin Yu and Hong Zhu, Medical University of South Carolina; and Salim S. El-Amouri, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, University of Cincinnati.

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