A Potential New Clue About Alzheimer's Pathology

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

As scientists generate new hypotheses about Alzheimer's pathology and assimilate new findings into the iterative storm of research in this area, new light reaches the topic on a daily basis. As reported recently in The Journal of Neuroscience, a study out of the Salk Institute may have uncovered an important piece of information about nicotine receptors and their role in the problem.

Alpha-7 is a nicotine receptor known to play a key role in certain cognitive processes. Based on this knowledge, scientists have sought potential treatments that activate this receptor theorizing that it might improve cognition in Alzheimer's patients. Findings have suggested something quite different.

In this study, researchers used genetically engineered mice with two particular mutations. First, they were prone to over-production of amyloid precursor protein (APP) which plays a key role in the formation of amyloid plaques in Alzheimer's patients. Second, they lacked the gene for the alpha-7 receptor. The expectation was that these mice, lacking alpha-7 receptors, would under-perform other mice with only the first mutation (prone to producing APP). Such a finding would help to demonstrate the helpful role of the nicotine receptors.

Surprisingly, these cross-engineered mice performed as well on memory tests as normal mice and outperformed mice that over produced APP but had intact alpha-7 receptors. The preliminary conclusion is that it must be the combination of APP and the alpha-7 receptors that triggers the cognitive decline in Alzheimer's patients. This is somewhat different than expected but serves as a perfect example of the scientific process of discovery in action.

For future direction, scientists might explore agents that block APP from interacting with the alpha-7 receptors as opposed to the past approach of merely stimulating the receptors.

A better understanding and more awareness of Alzheimer's related issues can impact personal health decisions and generate significant impact across a population of aging individuals. Please use the share button below to spread this educational message and help the world.

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