Scientists have identified a gene thought to play a causal role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
The gene, identified by researchers including one from Simon Fraser University in Canada, affects accumulation of amyloid-beta, a protein believed to be one of the main causes of the damage that underpins this brain disease in humans.
Each brain cell relies on an internal highway system that transports molecular signals needed for the development, communication, and survival of the cell. The gene encodes a protein that is important for intra-cellular transportation.
The impairment in the internal system can disrupt amyloid-beta processing, causing its eventual accumulation. This contributes to the development of amyloid plaques, which are a key hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Alzheimer’s is a multifactorial disease where a build-up of subtle problems develop in the nervous system over a span of decades,” said Michael Silverman, an SFU biology associate professor who worked on the study with a team of Japanese scientists led by Dr Takashi Morihara at Osaka University.
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“Alzheimer’s, like many human disorders, has a genetic component, yet many environmental and lifestyle factors contribute to the disease as well,” said Silverman.
“In a sense, it is like looking for a needle in a complex genetic haystack,” he added.
The gene discovery could open new avenues for the design of therapeutics and pave the way for early detection by helping healthcare professionals identify those who are predisposed to the disease, researchers said.
“One possibility is that a genetic test for a particular variant of this newly discovered gene, along with other variants of genes that contribute to Alzheimer’s, will help to give a person their overall risk for the disease,” said Silverman.
“Lifestyle changes, such as improved diet, exercise, and an increase in cognitive stimulation may then help to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s,” he said.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.