Prion protein hints at role in aiding learning and memory

October 16, 2012

Scientists from the University of Leeds have found that the protein called prion helps our brains to absorb zinc, which is believed to be crucial to our ability to learn and the wellbeing of our memory.

The findings published today in Nature Communications show that prion protein regulates the amount of in the brain by helping cells absorb it through channels in the . It is already known that high levels of zinc between are linked with diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Professor Nigel Hooper from the University's Faculty of explains: "With ageing, the level of prion protein in our brains falls and less zinc is absorbed by brain cells, which could explain why our memory and learning capabilities change as we get older. By studying both their roles in the body, we hope to uncover exactly how prion and zinc affect memory and learning. This could help us better understand how to maintain healthy brain cells and limit the effects of ageing on the brain."

Whilst the abnormal infectious form of prion - which causes Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans and (BSE) in cattle - has been extensively studied, the Leeds team is among the first to investigate the role of the 'normal' form of the protein.

Lead researcher, Dr Nicole Watts, says: "Zinc is thought to aid signalling in the brain as it's released into the space between brain cells. However, when there's too much zinc between the brain cells it can become toxic. High levels of zinc in this area between the cells are known to be a factor in neurodegenerative diseases, so regulating the amount of absorption by the cells is crucial."

The research, funded by the Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust and Alzheimer's Research UK, may have implications for how we treat – and possibly prevent – in the future.

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "We're pleased to have helped support this study, which has uncovered new information that could one day aid the development of new treatments for Alzheimer's. One next step would be to understand how regulating zinc levels may affect the progress of the disease. Results like these have the potential to lead to new and effective treatments – but for that to happen, we must build on these results and continue investing in research."

Explore further: Alzheimer's might be transmissible in similar way as infectious prion diseases: study

More information: Prion protein facilitates uptake of zinc into neuronal cells, Nicole T. Watt, David R. Taylor, Talitha L. Kerrigan, Heledd H. Griffiths, Jo V. Rushworth, Isobel J. Whitehouse, and Nigel M. Hooper, Nature Communications, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms2135

Related Stories

Alzheimer's might be transmissible in similar way as infectious prion diseases: study

October 4, 2011
The brain damage that characterizes Alzheimer's disease may originate in a form similar to that of infectious prion diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob, according to newly published ...

Recommended for you

Childhood poverty, poor support may drive up pregnant woman's biological age

October 16, 2017
Pregnant women who had low socioeconomic status during childhood and who have poor family social support appear to prematurely age on a cellular level, potentially raising the risk for complications, a new study has found.

Chronic inflammation plays critical role in sustained delivery of new muscular dystrophy therapy

October 16, 2017
Macrophages, a type of white blood cell involved in inflammation, readily take up a newly approved medication for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) and promote its sustained delivery to regenerating muscle fibers long after ...

Worms reveal secrets of aging: Researchers discover a conserved pathway that controls aging

October 13, 2017
Investigators at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Health System have identified a new molecular pathway that controls lifespan and healthspan in worms and mammals. In a Nature Communications ...

New study demonstrates importance of studying sleep and eating in tandem

October 13, 2017
A new study from scientists on the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) offers important insights into possible links between sleep and hunger—and the benefits of studying the two in tandem. A related ...

'Ridiculously healthy' elderly have the same gut microbiome as healthy 30 year-olds

October 11, 2017
In one of the largest microbiota studies conducted in humans, researchers at Western University, Lawson Health Research Institute and Tianyi Health Science Institute in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu, China have shown a potential link ...

A specific protein regulates the burning of body fat to generate heat

October 11, 2017
Scientists at the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares Carlos III (CNIC) have identified a protein that holds promise as a target for therapies to reduce obesity. Drs. Guadalupe Sabio and Nuria Matesanz have ...

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.