Experts find a clue as to how Alzheimer’s disease starts, saying mutations can starve the brain

Alzheimer’s breakthrough as experts find a clue as to how memory impaired disease starts and say that characteristic mutations can starve the brain of crucial energy

  • Australian researchers studied zebrafish with genes associated with Alzheimer’s
  • They found that brain cells from fish with the genes had disrupted oxygen production
  • This means that the brain had less energy to function, which affected its performance
  • Researchers are confident that they have found a cause of the disease in humans










Hopes of stopping Alzheimer’s in its tracks were raised today when scientists said they may have found what drives the memory-depriving disease.

Australian researchers believe that their discovery – if it turns out to be true in human experiments – could “benefit our aging population enormously”.

Genes that are thought to increase the risk of the condition interfere with the way brain cells produce energy and may contribute to the deterioration of the brain, their study suggests.

Academics from the University of Adelaide investigated how genetic mutations were associated with early-onset Alzheimer’s affected zebrafish.

The fish’s brain cells with the obvious DNA changes used less oxygen, meaning their brains were not able to produce enough energy to function properly.

Similar data on mice supported their theory.

Leading researcher Dr. Karissa Barthelson said the team is convinced they have found a ‘fundamental, early cause of Alzheimer’s in humans’.

“Energy production is the most fundamentally important cellular activity that supports all other functions, especially in highly active organs such as brains,” she said.

‘If we can understand what’s going wrong with oxygen consumption and energy production, we might be able to see ways to stop the disease before it starts.’

Australian researchers have found what could be an important driving factor in the memory-consuming disease Alzheimer's, where genes associated with the condition interfere with how brain cells use oxygen

Australian researchers have found what could be an important driving factor in the memory-consuming disease Alzheimer’s, where genes associated with the condition interfere with how brain cells use oxygen

The researchers used zebrafish for their study because of their ability to produce a large number of offspring, making it easier to detect subtle genetic differences

The researchers used zebrafish for their study because of their ability to produce a large number of offspring, making it easier to detect subtle genetic differences

She added: “It would benefit our aging population enormously.”

Dr. Barthelson and his colleagues published their findings in the journal Disease Models and Mechanisms.

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease in which the buildup of abnormal proteins causes nerve cells to die.

This disrupts the transmitters that carry messages and causes the brain to shrink.

Dr. Barthelson also said the disease means that ‘people’s brains become severely deficient in energy production’.

The disease, the most common type of dementia, usually affects people over the age of 65, but one in 20 cases is among younger adults.

Dr. Barthelson’s team studied zebrafish because they have very large families, making it easier to detect subtle effects.

The experts also examined another team’s similar research on mice and found the same result.

Dr. Barthelson said: ‘This strengthens our confidence that we have found a fundamental, early cause of Alzheimer’s in humans.

“It is very gratifying to have found this important common, early factor that drives the development of Alzheimer’s disease.”

The research team is now planning to investigate how the genes associated with Alzheimer’s affect the energy generation of different types of brain cells.

About 1 million people in the UK have Alzheimer’s disease, with the condition being responsible for the majority of dementia cases in the country,

In the United States, an estimated 5 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s, and this is officially the sixth most common cause of death in the country, although recent estimates have suggested that it should now move up to third place.

WHAT ARE ALZHEIMER’S?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain in which the buildup of abnormal proteins causes nerve cells to die.

This disrupts the transmitters that carry messages and causes the brain to shrink.

More than 5 million people suffer from the disease in the United States, where it is the 6th most common cause of death, and more than 1 million Britons have it.

WHAT HAPPENS?

When brain cells die, the functions they provide are lost.

It includes memory, orientation and the ability to think and reason.

The development of the disease is slow and gradual.

On average, patients live five to seven years after diagnosis, but some can live for ten to 15 years.

EARLY SYMPTOMS:

  • Loss of short-term memory
  • Disorientation
  • Behavioral changes
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty handling money or making a phone call

LATER SYMPTOMS:

  • Severe memory loss, forget about close family members, familiar objects or places
  • Becoming anxious and frustrated by the inability to understand the world, leading to aggressive behavior
  • Eventually lose the ability to walk
  • May have trouble eating
  • In the long run, the majority will need day care

Source: Alzheimer’s Association

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