Alzheimer's Cure: Synapse Discovery Provides Clues For New Treatment

First Posted: Nov 30, 2015 02:42 PM EST

Researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia have discovered how brain cell connections are destroyed during early stages of Alzheimer's.

"One of the first signs of Alzheimer's disease is the loss of synapses - the structures that connect neurons in the brain," said lead study author, Dr Vladimir Sytnyk, of the UNSW School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, in a news release.

"Synapses are required for all brain functions, and particularly for learning and forming memories. In Alzheimer's disease, this loss of synapses occurs very early on, when people still only have mild cognitive impairment, and long before the nerve cells themselves die.

"We have identified a new molecular mechanism which directly contributes to this synapse loss - a discovery we hope could eventually lead to earlier diagnosis of the disease and new treatments."

During the study, researchers examined the protein called neural cell adhesion molecule 2 (NCAM2), which helps in the formation of the synapses, according to the researchers, by promoting various connections in the brain.

When looking at post-mortem brain samples from those with Alzheimer's, researchers found that these individuals had low levels of NCAM2 in the hippocampus.
Now, the researchers are planning to study NCAM2 loss as a potential option for treatment and diagnosis of the disease.

"Our research shows the loss of synapses is linked to the loss of NCAM2 as a result of the toxic effects of beta-amyloid," Sytnyk added. "It opens up a new avenue for research on possible treatments that can prevent the destruction of NCAM2 in the brain."

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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