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Protein research offers hope of potential Alzheimer’s disease treatment

A protein called IL-33 could hold the key to reversing memory decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

A protein called IL-33 could hold the key to reversing memory decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Experiments on a strain of mice, which develop a progressive condition similar to Alzheimer’s disease as they age, resulted in a rapid improvement of memory and cognitive function.

The protein is produced by different cell types in the body, but is particularly abundant in the central nervous system – the brain and spinal cord.

Injecting the protein into a control group of mice produced results within a week.

One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s is the build-up of ‘tangles’ in the brain leading to the loss of connections between nerve cells and, eventually, loss of brain tissue.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow and in Hong Kong found that the IL-33 protein mobilises immune cells in the brain, inhibiting tissue inflammation. It not only untangles knots which have already formed, but also prevents tangles developing.

The Royal Society’s Eddy Liew, who co-directed the research, said: ‘We hope our findings can eventually be translated into humans. There are encouraging hints. The brains of patients with Alzheimer’s contain less IL-33 than the brains from non-Alzheimer’s patients.’

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, affecting about 850,000 people in the UK. Globally, 65 million people are projected to develop Alzheimer’s by 2030.

Reference

Fu AK et al (2016) IL-33 ameliorates Alzheimer’s disease-like pathology and cognitive decline. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

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