Researchers probing the mystery of Alzheimer’s disease have found a brain protein in the brain that may stop the disorder in its tracks.
The protein, called TOM-1, helps regulate inflammation in the brain.
“Scientists have known for a long time that inflammation is a driver of Alzheimer’s disease, but inflammation is complex and involves many factors,” said Dr. Frank LaFerla, dean of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, where the research was conducted.
“That’s why we decided to look at TOM-1.”
TOM-1 levels are low in brains of those with Alzheimer’s, both humans and mice used in the laboratory work, the researchers said.
Reducing the amount of TOM-1 in the Alzheimer’s mice increased inflammation and worsened the cognitive problems associated with the disease, they said.
Restoring the TOM-1 levels reversed the effects.
“You can think of TOM-1 as being like the brakes of a car, and the brakes aren’t working for people with Alzheimer’s,” LaFerla said.
“This research shows that fixing the brakes at the molecular level could provide an entirely new therapeutic avenue.”
Nearly 6 million people in the United States have the degenerative brain disease, with its associated memory loss and dementia.
That number is projected to more than double to almost 14 million people by 2050, according to the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association.
On average, someone with Alzheimer’s lives four to eight years after diagnosis, according to the association.
While there is no cure, drugs and other treatments have been known to help with some of its symptoms.