Author: Hannah Richards

Researcher led by Dr Ashe at University of Minnesota have reversed Alzheimer’s Disease in mice- a breakthrough that brings us closer to a cure.  

The research team at University of Minnesota spent 10 years analysing the foundations of the disease and recently discovered a natural enzyme that appears to have a key role. The enzyme in question is called caspase-2 that attacks neuronal protein, specifically a protein called tau. In Alzheimer’s disease tau forms aggregates that accumulate in neurons and thought to disrupt synaptic connections, this has been the main focus of research. However, more recently soluble forms of tau have been implicated in synaptic impairment.

Dr Ashe and team found that caspase-2 cleaved tau producing a small and soluble tau fragment, which was found to be elevated in brains of those suffering with Alzheimer’s. Results found that this small tau fragment was responsible for synaptic disruption and consequent memory problems seen in the mice rather than tau aggregates. These findings shed light on a new target for treatment, that blocking caspase-2 might restore synaptic function and memory in patients with Alzheimer’s.

Further investigation found that mice with mutant tau that resists cleavage by caspase-2 had no synaptic impairment or memory problems. Additionally, reducing the levels of naturally occurring caspase-2 in mice restored memory of mice who had existing memory defects. These results suggest a novel strategy by which synaptic function and memory can be restored in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease- this is a significant step towards a cure. Dr Ashe has already announced collaboration with drug developers to translate their findings into treatment.

IMAGE: Wikimedia

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Duncan Michie

Science and Technology Editor

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