For years, experts have acknowledged the link between apoE4—a variant of the apolipoprotein E gene—and a dramatically increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. It appears that apoE4 is at least partially responsible for the excess buildup of amyloid proteins in the brain, which disrupts the function and communication of neurons. And for nearly as long, researchers have been searching for the secret elixir that would prevent, cure, or even slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by reversing the effects of this gene.
Now, we may finally have the answer. Researchers from the Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis have discovered that a compound from a DNA-based molecule called antisense oligonucleotide is capable of disrupting the gene variant’s work in the brain.
In the study, the compound was injected into the liquid surrounding the brains of newborn mice, while saltwater or another placebo was used in the injection for two control groups. The mice who had had the compound injection saw the amount of amyloid plaque buildup drop by half. Their neuron function disruption also dropped by half, whereas the mice in the control group continued to build amyloid, resulting in decreased neuron function.
The researchers concluded that the compound, when released near enough to the brain, served to preserve neuron connections for longer, keeping the mice from getting Alzheimer’s disease.
Experts hope that this study will lead Alzheimer’s research down a new and more effective route toward a method of prevention. But will it be a complete cure? Probably not. David Holtzman, Department of Neurology head at the university, explains.
“If taken very early on, it could potentially prevent or markedly delay [Alzheimer’s]. It would probably be a compound one would need to keep taking the rest of their life once they started.”
Amyloid buildup does not appear to be the only factor in Alzheimer’s development. Researchers are now working on developing a strategy that will simultaneously combat amyloid, tau, and inflammation in the brain.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?