COLUMBIA, Mo. Four million people in the United States and 15 to 20 million people worldwide are affected by Alzheimers disease. These numbers are likely to triple by 2050 due to the fact that 24 percent of the population will be more than 65 years old. In their attempt to combat the disease, two University of Missouri-Columbia professors have identified new mechanisms that could have major implications in the development of treatments for the disease. The National Institutes of Health recently awarded a $6 million grant to the Mizzou researchers to continue their study.
Grace Sun and Gary Weisman, professors of biochemistry in the School of Medicine and the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, are entering the second phase of an $11 million project aimed at identifying the causes of Alzheimers disease. Previous studies have indicated toxic effects of a protein, the amyloid-beta peptide or A-beta, which accumulates in amyloid plaques in the brain of Alzheimers patients. Despite unknown mechanisms, increased production of this peptide may cause impairments of brain functions.
When the A-beta protein comes together inside the plaque, it will fold into an abnormal shape that is toxic to cells, Sun said. While we know this has some effect on brain function, we dont know how toxic it is or at what stage the toxicity begins. In the past five years, we have started to understand how this disease works. With the new grant, we will be able to go forward and see if there are treatments that can modify the cellular response in the brain.
The abnormal A-beta impairs the synapse connections that occur among neurons. These synapses control the communication among the brain cells, including how memory is processed. Besides neurons, A-beta also attacks astrocytes and microglial cells. Astrocytes are an important cell type that provides nutrients to neurons. Microglia cells are immune cells activated for defense related functions. Eff
Contact: Christian Basi
University of Missouri-Columbia