Protein May Hold the Key to Who Gets Alzheimer’s

Photo credit:The New York Times

Take the case of two different people whose brains both have a buildup of a myloid plaques and tau tangles, which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. One develops Alzheimer’s; the other does not. What accounts for that?

Harvard scientists have come up with a preliminary finding that others can now try to replicate. Their research found it may be related to the stress response system in the brain and just how well it’s working.

When it’s functioning normally, then the brain isn’t as susceptible to abnormal Alzheimer’s proteins. The research centered on the healthy difference one particular protein known as REST can make in protecting against age related stresses. Those who develop Alzheimer’s tend to have less of the REST protein in key areas of the brain.

Li-Huei Tsai, director of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had this reaction to the Harvard research just published in the journal Nature: “This is an extremely important study. This is the first study that is really starting to provide a plausible pathway to explain why some people are more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s than other people.”

While more research needs to be done, another Alzheimer’s researcher Dr. John C. Morris, of Washington University in St. Louis, described the research on REST as “very well done, and certainly helps support this idea that we’ve all tried to understand about why Alzheimer’s is age-associated and why, while amyloid is necessary for the development of Alzheimer’s disease, it certainly is not sufficient.”

New York Times, 3/19/14

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