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Scripps Study: Cause of Alzheimer’s Amyloid Damage Found

By Bradley J. Fikes

UT San Diego 4/10/2013 -- LA JOLLA, CA: A previously unknown cause of the brain damage from Alzheimer’s disease has been discovered by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute, according to a study published Wednesday.

Researchers not involved in the study say it may help guide development of drugs against the neurodegenerative disease — an effort scarred by expensive failures. The study was performed in a mouse model of the disease.

The research clarifies the role of a protein called amyloid beta, long suspected in Alzheimer’s disease. It demonstrated that other factors besides the protein trigger the disease’s characteristic neural damage.

The study, published in the journal Neuron, was led by Scripps professor Franck Polleux. The first author was Georges Mairet-Coello, a researcher in the Polleux lab.

The study described a relationship between three distinctive changes found in Alzheimer’s:

• Amyloid beta causes overactivity of an enzyme called AMPK.

• The overactivation causes neurons to accumulate a modified version of the protein tau, also long implicated in Alzheimer’s.

• Early in the disease, amyloid beta leads to loss of synapses, the small gaps over which signals travel between neurons.

The enzyme’s role in synapse loss was previously unknown, Polleux said.

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