An international team of scientists has discovered a new advance in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease by identifying a new drug target for not only improving symptoms of brain degeneration, but also extending the lifespan of terminally ill mice.
The four-year study by Medical Research Council (MRC) scientists based at the MRC Toxicology Unit at the University of Leicester was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
“The paper describes drug-like molecules that can restore memory loss and slow progression of prion neurodegenerative disease in a manner that relates to the potential of these drugs in human Alzheimer’s disease,” explained Professor Andrew Tobin, corresponding author.
“We have been using mice whose brain cells are progressively dying, similar to what happens in Alzheimer’s disease. This project focuses on a particular protein in the brain, which is proposed to be involved in Alzheimer’s disease, and as such could be a potential target for new drugs.
“We have treated mice with a new class of drug, and found that these drugs cannot only improve symptoms of brain degeneration, such as cognitive decline, but can also extend the life-span of these terminally-sick mice,” he continued.
The researchers note the drugs that activate this protein receptor in the brain have previously been tested in clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease, and showed positive results with respect to improving cognition, but the patients experienced a large number of adverse side effects.
This new class of drug is more selective and does not cause any side effects when administered to mice in the study, according to the scientists.
“This work may provide important information as to whether this protein is a viable drug target in the treatment of diseases associated with the progressive death of brain cells,” said Tobin, who moved from the University of Leicester to the University of Glasgow, alongside lead researcher Dr. Sophie Bradley.
“This is of great importance to society, based on the fact that the treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease are very limited. There are no cures for Alzheimer’s disease and current treatments are focused on relieving some of the symptoms.
“What we have found is a novel class of drugs, called allosteric ligands, that target a protein called the M1 muscarinic receptor, which is present in the brain,” he explained. “Activating this receptor protein cannot only improve cognitive function in mice with progressive brain degeneration, but when administered daily, can extend life span.”
The scientists say the work is important because it focuses on identifying a treatment that not only improves symptoms associated with neurodegeneration, like current treatments, but also identifies a new strategy for slowing disease progression and extending life span.
“Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, and it affects an estimated 850,000 people in the U.K. alone,” Tobin said.
Source: University of Leicester