Sugar could be key to stopping Alzheimer’s

1 March 2012

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Category: Research & medical benefits

mouse–lab.jpgResearchers have found that a simple sugar molecule could stop the toxic protein tangles that cause Alzheimer’s. The findings shed new light on the causes of the incurable disease and could pave the way for a new treatment.

The research team created a novel enzyme that prevents the removal of sugar molecules from Tau – the protein that clumps together to form plaques inside neurons, which scientists believe cause Alzheimer’s. Mice genetically engineered to develop these plaques were fed water containing the enzyme. As a result they had fewer clumps of Tau and maintained healthier brains than those that were just given water.

Previous research has shown that many proteins cannot function without the sugar molecules, called O-GlcNAc, attached to them. In fact, mice unable to attach these sugars to proteins inside their cells do not develop in the womb.

The Tau protein is present in healthy brains where it has a normal function but scientists do not know what causes it to become tangled in the neurons of people with Alzheimer’s disease. These experiments using mice suggest that the loss of the sugar could stop Tau working properly and clump together. The team hopes that their new enzyme could be the basis of a future medicine that prevents O-GlcNac being removed from Tau.

Much more work will be needed but these results are a step forward in our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and bring us closer to finding a cure.