Protein find could decipher Alzheimer’s

Katrina Tollin

Researchers at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio made breakthrough progress toward discovering a contributing factor of Alzheimer’s disease.

The research team discovered a new protein that interacts with another protein. The interaction leads to the expression of a gene that plays a role in the progression of the disease.

“If communication with these two proteins is disrupted it could stop the degeneration of nerve cells,” said molecular medicine doctoral candidate Xuan Xu, who discovered the protein molecule and its role in the disease at the Health Science Center.

The hope is that knowledge of the disease will eventually contribute to the development of new drugs that would inhibit the protein reaction and delay the progression of the disease, Xu said.

“The discovery we found has the potential to identify a compound, or drugs, to lead to effective treatment for this disease,” Xu said.

Although medication exists that can slow the onset of the disease, Xu said no treatment is currently available to stop the degeneration of nerve cells that results from Alzheimer’s disease.

Scientists know little about the cause of the terminal disease, said Veronica Galvan, assistant professor for the center’s Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies. The irreversible condition, which typically affects people over 65, is marked by a decline in cognitive ability to access and form memories, reason and think clearly.

“There are many aspects of the disease that we don’t understand,” Galvan said. “The way to get control of the situation is to understand it. Before we can try to find drugs, we should concentrate more on thoroughly understanding the biology, and then once we have the understanding, the opportunity about what to do about it will be obvious.”

Many Alzheimer’s patients have plaques, lesions in the brain that have been thought to contribute to the disease, according to a press release. The disease affects an estimated 5.3 million people in the U.S. alone and is the leading cause of dementia among the elderly.

EMBO Reports, a European molecular biology journal, published the finding in its Feb. 4 issue Friday.

Xu made the discovery as part of her doctoral dissertation. She has been working on this project for five years in Thomas Boyer’s lab at the Health Science Center’s Institute of Biotechnology. Haiying Zhou — who already obtained her doctoral degree in Boyer’s laboratory and is now pursuing postdoctoral studies at University of California, Berkeley — co-authored the study.