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Scientists ID Enzyme Causing Brain Cell Death

Findings could offer new therapies for neurodegenerative diseases

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 10 (HealthDay News) -- An enzyme believed to play a role in the death of neurons in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases has been identified by U.S. researchers.

The finding could help in the development of new drugs to treat these debilitating conditions.

The scientists focused on an enzyme called HDAC1, which configures chromatin, the structural component of chromosomes. Tests in mice found that when HDAC1 is blocked, some neurons start to replicate their DNA as if they were about to divide. This isn't a natural cycle for neurons and causes them to die. But increased levels of HDAC1 prevent this process and protect neurons.

The finding that HDAC1 is a molecular link between aberrant neuron cell-cycle activity and DNA damage suggests that the enzyme may be a potential target for drugs to treat diseases and conditions that involve neuronal death, the researchers said.

"Our findings provide insight into how neurons die in neurodegenerative diseases and offer a new therapeutic strategy for countering neuronal death," study leader Li-Huei Tsai, a professor of neuroscience at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in a school news release.

The study was published in the Dec. 11 issue of Neuron.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about Alzheimer's disease.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, news release, Dec. 10, 2008

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