A team of researchers from the University of Adelaide found a link between the way cells produce energy for brain function and the mutated genes in Alzheimer’s disease.
The discovery, published in Disease Models and Mechanisms, prompted further investigation into its association as a fundamental, early driver of Alzheimer’s disease in humans.
In the study, researchers analyzed the brains of young adult zebrafish with gene mutations linked to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Zebrafish were selected for the study because they produce very large families, making it easier to spot subtle effects.
The team used state-of-the-art genetic engineering and mathematical analysis to compare gene activity and spot subtle differences between the normal fish and those with the mutations.
While the researchers found that different mutations in different genes had many different effects on how brain cells function, they also found that Alzheimer’s disease mutations jointly affect a very important cell function – the cells’ use of oxygen for energy.
The lead researcher Dr. Karissa Barthelson of the University of Adelaide’s Alzheimer’s Disease Genetics Laboratory said, “This is very interesting because we know that by the time Alzheimer’s disease finally develops, people’s brains are seriously deprived of energy.
“When we discovered this common link, we took our research a step further and analyzed data from another research group who had studied an important Alzheimer’s gene in mice.
“We have seen a similar effect, and this gives us confidence that we have found a fundamental, early driver of Alzheimer’s disease in humans.”
The brain is made up of many different types of cells that produce and share energy in intricate ways. The Adelaide research group now wants to investigate how mutations in Alzheimer’s disease affect these different cell types.
“It is very gratifying to have identified this important common early factor that drives the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers say the cost of Alzheimer’s disease to society is enormous, not just for those unable to care for themselves, but also for lost relationships with loved ones when memories and knowledge fade.
“Energy production is the most basic cellular activity that supports all other functions, especially in highly active organs like the brain,” said Dr. Barthelson.
“If we can understand in detail what is going wrong with oxygen consumption and energy production, we could find ways to stop the disease before it starts – and that would benefit our aging population tremendously.”
Materials provided by University of Adelaide. Originally written by Kelly Brown. Note: The content can be edited for style and length.