New treatments for Alzheimer’s disease could be on the horizon after a team of researchers discovered how the degenerative brain condition destroys the connections between brain cells.
One of the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease is the loss of synapses – the structures that connect neurons in the brain, says study leader, Dr Vladimir Sytnyk, of the University of New South Wales.
Sytnyk added that synapses are required for all brain functions, and particularly for learning and forming memories. In Alzheimer’s disease, this loss of synapses occurs very early on, when people still only have mild cognitive impairment, and long before the nerve cells themselves die.
Researchers have identified a new molecular mechanism which directly contributes to this synapse loss, a discovery they hope could eventually lead to earlier diagnosis of the disease and new treatments, Sytnyk noted.
The team studied a protein in the brain called neural cell adhesion molecule 2, or NCAM2. They discovered that synaptic NCAM2 levels in the part of the brain known as the hippocampus were low in those with Alzheimer’s disease.
The research is published in the journal Nature Communications.