August 21, 2010
The brains of people with Alzheimer’s contain large numbers of plaques and tangles. Plaques are formed from beta-amyloid. Tangles are made of a protein called tau. Like beta-amyloid, tangles can also damage the brain and thus contribute to the devastating loss of mental function in Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists have known for a while that tangles are caused when the tau protein does not fold properly. All proteins need to fold to have normal function. When a protein does not fold properly, it not only loses its own function, but also may damage many other proteins in cells, especially in the brain. Fisher Center scientists recently discovered that they could prevent the formation of tangles in a model of Alzheimer’s disease by supplying a drug that blocks a type of protein known as a “chaperone” or “stress protein.” This could lead to treatments that prevent much of the devastating damage to brain cells that occurs in Alzheimer’s. Such treatment might be applied alongside an anti-amyloid treatment and this combination may turn out to be especially beneficial.