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July 10, 2013

New finding may slow spread of Alzheimer's disease

In what could be a step toward slowing the spread of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain, a team of researchers from Michigan State University found that a particular substance, when injected into mice, lowers levels of a peptide linked to the disease.

The scientists found that when a compound known as L-cylcoserine was injected into mice that were genetically altered to have the disease pathology, it significantly lowered their levels of a peptide that creates plaques in the brain – a hallmark of Alzheimer’s.

“This could be a possible therapeutic strategy for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Hirosha Geekiyanage, a recent graduate of MSU’s Genetics Program who conducted the research in the laboratory of Christina Chan, professor of chemical engineering and material science. Both are members of the research team.

Autopsy results have shown that people who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease had increased levels of a compound known as ceramide in their brains. This lipid compound was synthesized from saturated fatty acids by an enzyme known as serine palmitoyltransferase, or SPT.

When ceramide and SPT are elevated, they help produce amyloid-beta, a peptide that is known to deposit plaques on the brain, which is linked to Alzheimer’s.

In this experiment, the researchers confirmed that in mice the L-cylcoserine helped reduce the levels of SPT, thus reducing their chances of getting Alzheimer’s.

“L-cylcoserine reduces SPT activity and SPT is the enzyme that produces ceramide,” Chan said. “When SPT activity is reduced, lower levels of ceramide are produced.”

“The next step would be to conduct the experiment perhaps in a larger group of animals, before moving to a clinical trial,” Geekiyanage said. “Cycloserine has been previously tested in clinical trials and cognitive improvements have been noted.”

However, she said, in those experiments levels of amyloid-beta have not been tested, and that, she said, “is a major culprit of the disease.”

The research was supported through MSU’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, MSU College of Engineering.

The results of the research are published in a recent edition of The Neurobiology of Aging.”

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common forms of dementia. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. It’s estimated that more than 5 million Americans are living with the disease.


By: Tom Oswald