The BrainDue to a family history of the disease, I have been interested in keeping track of advances in treating and preventing Alzheimer’s disease for quite some time.  This morning, thanks to Science Friday [1], I learned of a potential new treatment that is showing a lot of promise.  A group of scientists from the Landreth Lab[2], at Case Western Reserve University,  recently published a paper[3] describing the results of their research.  Gary Landreth[4], the researcher interviewed by Science Friday, provided an informative explanation of the research.  The following is a summary of what I took away from that interview.

While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s and even its cause is still somewhat unclear, the current theory is that it is closely tied to the deposits of amyloid plaques, or Amyloid Betas (Aβ), that build up in the brain as we age.  Amyloids are “small reddish sticky peptide[s]” which are generated at the synapse during normal brain activity.  A healthy brain relies on proteins called apolipoproteins[5] to clear away the Aβ before it can accumulate.  However as we get older the process for clearing it away becomes less efficient which allows the Aβ to start to accumulate, first into fibrils and then into plaques.  These masses interfere with normal brain activity causing the all too familiar Alzheimer’s symptoms..

ApoE is the principle apolipoprotein of the brain.  In humans there are three different allelic variations of the ApoE gene, ApoE2, ApoE3 and ApoE4[7].  ApoE4 is the variation most commonly associated with Alheimer’s disease.  Dr. Landreth’s research focuses on the use of an FDA approved drug (Bexarotene[6]) to help regulate the ApoE gene expression.    Through a mechanism I would need more time to understand, Bexarotene has proven effective in its ability to help the ApoEs in our brain clear out the Aβ more effectively than they could on their own.  Therefore, for those of us who may have the ApoE4 variation in our genes, some help may be on the way.

Keep in mind that this has only been shown to work in mice and proving the same result in humans will take some time.  But the results are promising.