A Synthetic Peptide Destroys Brain Plaque Implicated in Alzheimer's Disease

New York, NY- June 29, 1998-- New York University School of Medicine researchers have created a protein fragment that blocks the formation of a substance implicated in causing Alzheimer's disease, a finding that may lay the foundation for a novel therapy for the mind robbing disease.

Alzheimer's disease is characterized by the destruction of nerve cells, especially in the areas of the brain vital to memory and learning. A key question is what causes the loss of the cells. As yet, scientists don't know the answer. Round plaques composed of a protein called amyloid are one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease and increasing evidence suggests that amyloid causes the death of nerve cells.

In a new study, led by Claudio Soto, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor of Neurology and Pathology at NYU School of Medicine, a custom-designed sequence of just five amino acids completely blocked the formation of amyloid in the brains of rats, destroyed already existing amyloid and prevented the death of nerve cells caused by amyloid in tissue cultures of human nerve cells. The findings are published in the July issue of the journal Nature Medicine.

"Whether or not amyloid formation directly causes Alzheimer's disease, it is a good target for therapy," says Dr. Soto. "We think that these findings open the way for a new therapeutic approach to treating Alzheimer's disease by preventing the deposition of senile plaques," says Dr. Soto. "We also believe that our compound may be useful in treating other diseases caused by defective protein folding, including prion disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease."

Amino acids hook together to form peptides and proteins. Amyloid plaque is deposited in the brain as sheets, explains Dr. Soto. These sheets, which may contain thousands of protein strings, form a shape called "beta-pleated." In order to continue forming the pleated sheets, the strings must be folded in a particular way

Contact: Marjorie Shaffer
New York University Medical Center and School of Medicine

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