The future is looking good for drugs designed to combat Alzheimer's disease. EPFL scientists have unveiled how two classes of drug compounds currently in clinical trials work to fight the disease. Their research suggests that these compounds target the disease-causing peptides with high precision and with minimal side-effects. At the same time, the scientists offer a molecular explanation for early-onset hereditary forms of Alzheimer's, which can strike as early as thirty years of age. The conclusions of their research, which has been published in the journal Nature Communications, are very encouraging regarding the future of therapeutic means that could keep Alzheimer's disease in check.
Alzheimer's disease is characterized by an aggregation of small biological molecules known as amyloid peptides. We all produce these molecules; they play an essential antioxidant role. But in people with Alzheimer's disease, these peptides aggregate in the brain into toxic plaques called "amyloid plaques" that destroy the surrounding neurons.
The process starts with a long protein, "APP", which is located across the neuron's membrane. This protein is cut into several pieces by an enzyme, much like a ribbon is cut by scissors. The initial cut generates a smaller intracellular protein that plays a useful role in the neuron. Another cut releases the rest of APP outside the cell this part is the amyloid peptide.
For reasons not yet well understood, APP protein can be cut in several different places, producing amyloid peptides that are of varying lengths. Only the longer forms of the amyloid peptide carry the risk of aggregating into plaques, and people with Alzheimer's disease produce an abnormally high number of these.
A favorite Alzheimer's target: gamma secretase
The two next-generation classes of compound that are currently in clinical trials target an enzyme that cuts APP, known as gamma secretase. Until now, our
|Contact: Patrick Fraering|
Ecole Polytechnique Fdrale de Lausanne