Right target, but missing the bulls-eye for Alzheimer's
UCLA researchers discover new point of attack for drug therapy
January 23, 2013
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of late-life dementia. The disorder is thought to be caused by a protein known as amyloid-beta, or Abeta, which clumps together in the brain, forming plaques that are thought to destroy neurons. This destruction starts early, too, and can presage clinical signs of the disease by up to 20 years.
For decades now, researchers have been trying, with limited success, to develop drugs that prevent this clumping. Such drugs require a "target" — a structure they can bind to, thereby preventing the toxic actions of Abeta.
Now, a new study out of UCLA suggests that while researchers may have the right target in Abeta, they may be missing the bull's-eye. Reporting in the Jan. 23 issue of the Journal of Molecular Biology, UCLA neurology professor David Teplow and colleagues focused on a particular segment of a toxic form of Abeta and discovered a unique hairpin-like structure that facilitates clumping.
"Every 68 seconds, someone in this country is diagnosed with Alzheimer's," said Teplow, the study's senior author and principal investigator of the NIH-sponsored Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at UCLA. "Alzheimer's disease is the only one of the top 10 causes of death in America that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed down once it begins. Most of the drugs that have been developed have either failed or only provide modest improvement of the symptoms. So finding a better pathway for these potential therapeutics is critical."