New Alzheimer's Disease Target Found

September 23, 2010

Researchers at Rush University Medical Center have found a new therapeutic target for Alzheimer's disease.

In a finding that could pave the way for a new way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease progression, Rush University Medical Center (RUMC) researchers have identified neutral sphingomyelinase (N-SMase) as a new therapeutic target for the disease. When activated, the N-SMase protein causes a chain of reactions on the cellular level that lead to neuronal death and memory loss.

"There are multiple, neurotoxic, disease-causing pathways that converge on the neutral sphingomyelinase that can cause neuronal loss in the brain of an Alzheimer's patient," said lead investigator Kalipada Pahan, PhD, neurological researcher, RUMC. "If we can stop the activation of the neutral sphingomylinase, we may be able to stop memory loss and the progression of Alzheimer's disease."

Though it’s has been know for some time that glial cell activation by beta-amyloid plays a vital role in neuron destruction in the brain of Alzheimer’s disease patients, until the current study, the mechanisms by which the activated glial cell kill neurons was poorly understood. The RUMC research team found that neutral sphingomyelinase is triggered by the activated glial cells and beta-amyloid, and that inhibiting neutral sphingomyelinase made the activated cells and beta-amyloid unable to kill neurons.

"Understanding how the disease process works is important in identifying effective approaches to protect the brain and stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease," said Pahan. "The results of this study are very promising and our next step is to translate these findings to the clinic… If we can develop and test a clinical medication that can target the neutral sphingomyelinase, we may be able to halt memory loss in Alzheimer's disease patients.”

More on Alzheimer’s around the Web:

  • Check out the study results published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
  • Selective Cell Death of Hyperploid Neurons in Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Novel Protein Being Tested as Potential Target in Alzheimer's Treatment
  • Report Reveals Global Cost of Alzheimer’s to Be $604 Billion
  • Cholinergic Enhancement Augments Magnitude and Specificity of Visual Perceptual Learning in Healthy Humans