14 March 2012

A New Angle of Attack Against Alzheimer's Dementia

A study published this week in the Journal of Neuroscience shows that the compound epothilone D (EpoD) is effective in preventing further neurological damage and improving cognitive performance in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease (AD). The results establish how the drug might be used in early-stage AD patients.

...EpoD acts by the same microtubule-stabilizing mechanism as the FDA-approved cancer drug paclitaxel (Taxol™). These drugs prevent cancer cell proliferation by over-stabilizing specialized microtubules involved in the separation of chromosomes during the process of cell division. However, the Penn researchers previously demonstrated that EpoD, unlike paclitaxel, readily enters the brain and so may be useful for treating AD and related disorders.


After three months of receiving EpoD, additional tau clumps did not form in the brains of the aged AD mice, and nerve-cell function was increased compared to the AD mice that did not receive drug. What’s more, the EpoD-treated mice showed improvements in learning and memory. Importantly, the doses of EpoD that resulted in these benefits were much lower than had previously been used in Phase II clinical testing of EpoD in cancer patients. The investigators observed no side-effects — including the suppression of the immune system and peripheral nerve damage -- in the transgenic mice that received EpoD. _UPennNews
Most approaches to treating Alzheimer's dementia aim to either affect the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain -- particularly acetylcholine -- or to decrease accumulation of amyloid beta protein.

The idea of over-stabilising neurotubules to prevent tau tangles from forming in early stage Alzheimer's is an intriguing approach, and dates to earlier studies attempting to discover the true etiological origins of Alzheimer's. More from a 2011 study published in The Journal of Neuroscience:
Alzheimer's disease (AD) pathology is characterized by senile plaques (SPs) and neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) (Selkoe, 2001). SPs are extracellular deposits of amyloid-β (Aβ), a 3–4 kDa peptide derived from proteolytic cleavage of the amyloid precursor protein (APP) by β-site APP cleavage enzyme 1 (BACE) (Hussain et al., 1999; Sinha et al., 1999; Vassar et al., 1999; Yan et al., 1999) and the presenilin (PS)-containing γ-secretase complex (De Strooper et al., 1998; Wolfe et al., 1999). NFTs are intracellular accumulations of hyperphosphorylated tau (Lee et al., 2001). About 5% of AD cases are linked to pathogenic mutations in APP, PS1, or PS2 genes (Selkoe, 2001). Tau gene mutations are pathogenic for familial frontotemporal lobar degeneration characterized by tau pathology without SPs, indicating that tau abnormalities alone cause neurodegenerative disease (Lee et al., 2001). _Journal of Neuroscience 25 May 2011, 31(21): 7691-7699; doi: 10.1523/​JNEUROSCI.6637-10.2011
Note that researchers are still attempting to unravel the apparent multiple strings of causation involved in Alzheimer's Disease (AD) and similar neurodegenerative diseases of the brain.

The new research involving microtubule stabilisation, was performed in transgenic mice, meaning that results in human populations using such treatments may be quite different. The fact that both amyloid placques and tau tangles are seen in pathological brain specimens from AD patients suggests that more than one treatment approach may ultimately be required for many, if not most AD sufferers.

Cross-posted to Al Fin Longevity

Bonus: Rather far-out reading for extra credit -- http://www.dhushara.com/cosfcos/cosfcos2.html. The fascinating webpage at the link ties into the theme of brain microtubules, via the much debated idea of a microtubular quantum coding involvement in human consciousness. Most readers will want to skip this topic, but for the obsessive compulsives among the Al Fin readership, it may prove interesting. More from the online Journal of Cosmology

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