ALZHEIMER’S symptoms such as memory loss could be prevented by targeting a chemical that dismantles brain connections, research suggests.
Scientists have already started work searching for a drug that will block the mechanism, discovered in mice.
If successful, a treatment that effectively protects against the effects of Alzheimer’s could be available in the next ten years.
It has long been known that the disease is linked to a build-up of toxic amyloid-beta protein in the brain.
Researchers at University College London have now found that amyloid-beta stimulates production of another protein, Dkk1, which is largely responsible for Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Dkk1 destroys synapses, connections between neurons, in the hippocampus area of the brain vital to learning and memory.
Studying samples of mouse brain in the laboratory, the scientists found that they could neutralise Dkk1 with a specific antibody.
In practical terms, it is unlikely that a vaccine-type treatment could tackle Alzheimer’s the same way. But study leader Dr Patricia Salinas said now Dkk1’s role was known, there was a chance of developing drugs to target it.
“These novel findings … raise the hope for a treatment and perhaps the prevention of cognitive decline early in Alzheimer’s disease,” she said.