Scientists “switch off” brain cell death in mice
Rushing to beat death has always been one of aspects of human race in which we try to over come. Be it slowing down cell deterioration to extend human life or creating cells that can replenish themselves over longer periods of time — death ultimately wins the batlle.
Scientists, however, have figured out how to stop brain cell death . . . in mice. By stopping brain cell death in mice with brain disease, they are able to understand more about the complexity of the human neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
British researchers writing in the journal Nature said they had found a major pathway leading to brain cell death in mice with prion disease, the mouse equivalent of Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease (CJD).
They then worked out how to block it, and were able to prevent brain cells from dying, helping the mice live longer.
The finding, described by one expert as “a major breakthrough in understanding what kills neurons”, points to a common mechanism by which brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and CJD damage the nerve cells.
In neurodegenerative diseases, proteins “mis-fold” in a various ways, leading to a buildup of misshapen proteins, the researchers explained in the study.
These misshapen proteins form the plaques found in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s and the Lewy bodies found in Parkinson’s disease.
“What’s exciting is the emergence of a common mechanism of brain cell death, across a range of different neurodegenerative disorders, activated by the different mis-folded proteins in each disease,” said Giovanna Mallucci, who led the research at the University of Leicester’s toxicology unit.
“The fact that in mice with prion disease we were able to manipulate this mechanism and protect the brain cells means we may have a way forward in how we treat other disorders,” she said in a statement about the work.
An estimated 18 million people worldwide suffer from Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s is thought to affect around one in 100 people over the age of 60. In these diseases, neurons in the brain die, destroying the brain from the inside.
But why the neurons die has remained an unsolved mystery, presenting an obstacle to developing effective treatments and to being able to diagnose the illnesses at early stages when medicines might work better.