Scientists are a step closer to understanding why not everyone develops Alzheimer's as they get older.
While the exact cause of Alzheimer's is still not completely understood, it's generally observed that people with the condition have a buildup of plaques called amyloid-beta in their brains, as well as tangles of tau protein in inside neurons.
Researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found that in order to create the beta-amyloid plaques that are so characteristic in the memory-robbing disease, an enzyme called BACE-1 has to first combine with a protein called amyloid precursor protein. This enzyme chops up the protein into little fragments. Therefore, the key to preventing these beta-amyloid proteins might involve separating the enzyme from the amyloid precursor protein.
"It's like physically separating gunpowder and match so that the inevitable explosion is avoided," study researcher Subhojit Roy, M.D., Ph.D., who is a cell biologist and neuropathologist in the Shiley-Marcos Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at the university, said in a statement. "Knowing how the gunpowder and match are separated may give us new insights into possibly stopping the disease."
The study, published in the journal Neuron, is based on work done on human and mouse brain neurons and tissue in lab cultures. Researchers found that in healthy brain cells, BACE-1 and amyloid precursor proteins are kept separated as soon as they're made so that they don't interact.
Researchers also tried applying a technique known to promote production of beta-amyloid protein -- by increasing electrical activity in the neurons -- to find that it increased interaction between amyloid precursor protein and the BACE-1 enzyme.