Lack of immune cell receptor impairs clearance of amyloid beta protein from the brain

July 1, 2013

Identification of a protein that appears to play an important role in the immune system's removal of amyloid beta (A-beta) protein from the brain could lead to a new treatment strategy for Alzheimer's disease. The report from researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has been published online in Nature Communications.

"We identified a receptor protein that mediates clearance from the brain of soluble A-beta by cells of the ," says Joseph El Khoury, MD, of the Center for Immunology and Inflammatory Diseases in the MGH Division of Infectious Diseases, co-corresponding author of the report. "We also found that deficiency of this receptor in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease leads to greater A-beta deposition and accelerated death, while upregulating its expression enhanced A-beta clearance from the brain."

The brain's immune system – which includes cells like microglia, monocytes and macrophages that engulf and remove foreign materials – appears to play a dual role in neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's disease. At early stages, these cells mount a response against the buildup of A-beta, the primary component of the toxic plaques found in the brains of patients with the devastating . But as the disease progresses and A-beta plaques become larger, not only do these cells lose their ability to take up A-beta, they also release inflammatory chemicals that cause further damage to .

In their investigation of factors that may underlie the breakdown of the immune system's clearance of A-beta, El Khoury's team with the hypothesis that, in addition to recognizing and binding to the insoluble form of A-beta found in , the brain's immune cells might also interact with soluble forms of A-beta that could begin accumulating in the brain before plaques appear. The researchers first examined a group of known to be used by microglia, monocytes and macrophages to interact with insoluble A-beta. Although any role for these proteins in Alzheimer's disease has not been known, the MGH investigators previously found that their expression in a mouse model of the disease dropped as the animals aged.

After they first identified the involvement of a receptor called Scara1 in the uptake of soluble A-beta by and macrophages, the researchers then confirmed that Scara1 appears to be the major receptor for recognition and clearance of A-beta by the innate immune system, the body's first line of defense. In a of Alzheimer's, animals that were missing one or both copies of the Scara1 gene died several months earlier than did those with two functioning copies. By the age of 8 months, Alzheimer's mice with no functioning Scara1 genes had double the A-beta in their brains as did a control group of Alzheimer's mice, while normal mice had virtually none.

To investigate possible therapeutic application of the role of Scara1 in A-beta clearance, the MGH team treated cultured immune cells with Protollin, a compound that has been used to enhance the immune response to certain vaccines. Application of Protollin to immune cells tripled their expression of Scara1 and also increased levels of a protein that attracts other . Adding Protollin-stimulated microglia to brain samples from Alzheimer's mice reduced the size and number of A-beta deposits in the hippocampus, an area particularly damaged by the disease, but that reduction was significantly less when microglia from Scara1-deficient mice were used.

El Khoury notes that previous research showed that Protollin treatment reduced A-beta deposits in Alzheimer's mice and the current study reveals the probable mechanism behind that finding. "Upregulating Scara1 expression is a promising approach to treating Alzheimer's disease," he says. "First we need to duplicate these studies using human cells and identify new classes of molecules that can safely increase Scara1 expression or activity. That could potentially lead to ways of harnessing the immune system to delay the progression of this disease." El Khoury is an associate professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Explore further: New Alzheimer's research suggests possible cause: The interaction of proteins in the brain

Related Stories

New Alzheimer's research suggests possible cause: The interaction of proteins in the brain

June 19, 2013
For years, Alzheimer's researchers have focused on two proteins that accumulate in the brains of people with Alzheimer's and may contribute to the disease: plaques made up of the protein amyloid-beta, and tangles of another ...

New findings on the brain's immune cells during Alzheimer's disease progression

April 11, 2013
The plaque deposits in the brain of Alzheimer's patients are surrounded by the brain's own immune cells, the microglia. This was already recognized by Alois Alzheimer more than one hundred years ago. But until today it still ...

Alzheimer's brain change measured in humans

June 12, 2013
Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have measured a significant and potentially pivotal difference between the brains of patients with an inherited form of Alzheimer's disease and healthy family ...

Suppressing protein may stem Alzheimer's disease process

April 25, 2013
Scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health have discovered a potential strategy for developing treatments to stem the disease process in Alzheimer's disease. It's based on unclogging removal of toxic debris that ...

A new strategy required in the search for Alzheimer's drugs?

May 24, 2013
In the search for medication against Alzheimer's disease, scientists have focused – among other factors – on drugs that can break down Amyloid beta (A-beta). After all, it is the accumulation of A-beta that causes the ...

Recommended for you

Make way for hemoglobin

August 18, 2017
Every cell in the body, whether skin or muscle or brain, starts out as a generic cell that acquires its unique characteristics after undergoing a process of specialization. Nowhere is this process more dramatic than it is ...

Two-step process leads to cell immortalization and cancer

August 17, 2017
A mutation that helps make cells immortal is critical to the development of a tumor, but new research at the University of California, Berkeley suggests that becoming immortal is a more complicated process than originally ...

New Pathology Atlas maps genes in cancer to accelerate progress in personalized medicine

August 17, 2017
A new Pathology Atlas is launched today with an analysis of all human genes in all major cancers showing the consequence of their corresponding protein levels for overall patient survival. The difference in expression patterns ...

Female mouse embryos actively remove male reproductive systems

August 17, 2017
A protein called COUP-TFII determines whether a mouse embryo develops a male reproductive tract, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health and their colleagues at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston. The ...

New technique overcomes genetic cause of infertility

August 17, 2017
Scientists have created healthy offspring from genetically infertile male mice, offering a potential new approach to tackling a common genetic cause of human infertility.

Inhibiting a protein found to reduce progression of Alzheimer's and ALS in mice

August 17, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with Genetech Inc. and universities in Hamburg and San Francisco has found that inhibiting the creation of a protein leads to a reduction in the progression of Alzheimer's disease ...


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.