The possibility of developing drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease, the commonest form of dementia, comes closer as we unravel its complex chemistry. We know that a family of substances called amyloid-beta peptides (ABPs) is a serial killer of brain nerve cells, or neurons – whose spindly extremities vulnerable to attack are stained green in this picture of highly magnified brain tissue. While ABPs are difficult to zap with drugs, a much easier target appears to be a protein in the cell membrane, called mGluR5 which has been shown to play a critical role in the ABPs’ attack plan. In an experiment on mice with a similar condition to Alzheimer’s, their memory and learning ability were restored when mGluR5 was chemically blocked. Whether a safe and effective drug can be developed for use on humans remains to be seen but research is now underway.
Written by Mick Warwicker
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