Scientists from the University of Nottingham have discovered a treatment that could potentially help to slow down the progression of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Diseases associated with old age, including Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, are increasing in prevalence and, although symptomatic treatments exist, a cure to prevent progression of the disease has yet to be found.
This new study, which is published in the journal PNAS and led by Dr Joern Steinert from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Nottingham, could mean that patients with these conditions could live healthier and longer lives.
Neurodegenerative diseases are associated with various abnormal neuronal functions in the brain, which are related to misfolding proteins, such as amyloid beta detected in Alzheimer’s disease.
In this new research, the team of experts used a mouse model to study a specific angle of this type of disease caused by the misfolding prion protein. Prions are tiny proteins that, for unknown reasons, misfold in a way that damages healthy brain cells. You can have them for many years before you notice any symptoms.
Prion diseases such as Creutzfledt Jakob disease in human or mad cow disease (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy [BSE]) cause a type of dementia that progresses unusually fast in contrast to Alzheimer’s disease. Different genes and proteins are involved in both diseases but leading to a similar outcome.
One reason why neurons die in these diseases is because of the body’s aggressive internal immune response to the misfolding prion protein, which is called neuroinflammation.
In order to prevent the neurons from dying, the team used a specific treatment, which inhibits this aggressive immune response by blocking an enzyme called nitric oxide synthase.
By blocking this enzyme over three weeks in mice with the disease, the team showed that the neurons life was prolonged, they stayed healthier and the process of prion misfolding was reduced.
Dr Steinert said: ‘By blocking the enzyme nitric oxide synthase in this particular disease, we saw incredible results, which gives us hope that a treatment might also be beneficial to supress certain aspects of other neurodegenerative disease.’
The team will now specifically test if this treatment is also effective in other forms of dementia, specifically in Alzheimer’s disease and will study the exact details of this neuroinflammation process.