Scientists in California successfully changed a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease into a more harmless form, allowing them to erase brain cell damage. The breakthrough is important as the research was not conducted on mice but rather human cells.
Researchers from the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco took stem cells from Alzheimer’s patients who had two copies of the apoE4 gene as well as stem cells from two healthy volunteers who also had a pair of the apoE4 gene, a study published online Tuesday said. They then created neurons, or brain cells, from these stem cells.
Through studying these neurons, the team was able to identify exactly why apoE4 puts individuals at such increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. For example, having one apoE4 gene more than doubles the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and possessing two copies of the gene increases risk of developing the neurodegenerative brain disease by 12-fold, a statement on the study reported.
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Now we know this is because the apoE4 gene, which creates the apoE4 protein, increases the production of the amyloid beta protein. This finding surprised the researchers, as the presence of the apoE4 gene in mouse models did not increase amyloid beta production.
Increased amyloid beta production is significant because in some cases, these proteins can clump together and form plaques. These plaques can disrupt neuron messaging and in turn cause many of the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease, such as cognitive problems.