Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers have proposed a common cause for neurodegenerative diseases, which could serve as a roadmap for developing new medical treatments. The key may lie in the complexity of the central nervous system (CNS) of primates.
The study was published in Redux Biology and conducted by a team led by Professor Stas Engel, a member of the BGU Department of Clinical Biochemistry and Pharmacology in the Faculty of Health Sciences.
‘These findings indicate that the predisposition of the human brain to neurodegeneration is engraved in our genes, therefore neurodegenerative disease treatment development is difficult,’ says Professor Engel. ‘Our discovery could help lay the groundwork for future treatments by showing which system to target.’
The BGU researchers believe the CNS of primates has a weak point: a quality control system that clears out poisonous proteins created during high oxygen intake activities. When the system experiences an anomaly, such as trauma or old age, it fails to clean out all of the poisonous proteins, which build up in the neurons and become neurodegenerative diseases.
The primate brain consumes oxygen while completing multiple tasks, resulting in the production of a high level of toxic substances known as reactive oxygen species (ROS). The brain produces concurrently damaged proteins, which, if not purged from the body, begin to accumulate, damaging neurons and supporting cells.
Primates have developed an extra level of defence mechanisms to combat ROS: primate differential redoxome (PDR), which makes the primate nervous system extremely robust against ROS. However, the downside of robustness is fragility. Nonroutine events may cause the PDR to fail and allow ROS into the brain.
‘One of the anomalies the PDR system must deal with is old age,’ says Professor Engel. ‘We are living much longer than we used to and therefore, the system cannot keep up. Physical trauma could also represent an anomaly that disrupts the PDR’s routine processing.’
Additional authors include Professor Engel’s students Nachiyappan Venkatachalam, Shamchal Bakavayev and Daniel Engel, as well as Professor Zeev Barak of the BGU Department of Life Sciences in the Faculty of Natural Sciences.