A RECEPTOR of the Alzheimer’s APP protein fragment called APPsα, which stimulates memory and nerve cell communication, has been discovered for the first time in an animal model by researchers from Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany. The findings have potentially unveiled new therapeutic approaches for combatting Alzheimer’s disease.
Recent studies have shown that levels of APPsα, which has neuroprotective properties, drop off over the course of Alzheimer’s disease. APPsα acts as an antagonist to the β-amyloid peptide, which is the main component of insoluble protein aggregates that trigger the condition.
Enhanced Nerve Cell Communication
The team introduced APPsα into the hippocampus region of the brains of genetically modified mice to understand how the soluble protein fragment affects brain functions. APPsα was found to increase the numbers of synaptic contacts between nerve cells. “This was associated with more efficient nerve cell communication and improved memory in learning tests,” explained Prof Ulrike Müller, Heidelberg University.
Function as a Signalling Molecule
For the first time, it was demonstrated that APPsα plays a role as a signalling molecule on the synaptic contacts of certain brain cells, following further electrophysiological experiments. The messenger molecule acetylcholine is used by these synaptic contacts to transmit signals between nerve cells; the presence of APPsα was shown to improve signal transmission by the acetylcholine receptors and also increased their natural receptivity.
The study could hold major significance for the development of future therapies for Alzheimer’s disease, with this being the first time a receptor for APPsα has been identified in an animal model. Prof Müller added: “This paves the way for new options in Alzheimer’s research, such as increasing the amount of APPsα in the brain.”
Burden of Alzheimer’s
It is vital that new methods of treating Alzheimer’s are established, with 131.5 million people projected to have the condition by 2050.1
James Coker, Reporter
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- Alzheimer’s Disease International. World Alzheimer Report 2015. 2015. Available at: https://www.alz.co.uk/research/WorldAlzheimerReport2015.pdf. Last accessed: 18 April 2018.