In a fruit-fly research, scientists have demonstrated that by enhancing the production of a protein called neprilysin it is possible to reduce the formation of plaques and neuron death linked with Alzheimer's, at the expense of reducing the flies' lifespan.
Alzheimer's is characterised by the buildup of amyloid-beta protein plaques within the brain, and one that is believed to contribute to disease progression. Usually, special enzymes chew up and clear these plaques, and deficiencies in these enzymes are one potential disease cause.
One major amyloid degrader called neprilysin (NEP) decreases naturally with age and may explain why the elderly are more at risk for Alzheimer's. Thus, enhancing NEP production might turn out to be an attractive therapy.
But, till date, no studies have really looked into possible adverse effects of over-activating NEP (after all, nature probably turns it off for a reason). But, in this new study, research groups led by Koichi Iijima and Kanae Iijima-Ando used transgenic fruit flies expressing human NEP and/or amlyoid-beta protein.
While on one hand, NEP expression successfully reduced plaque deposits and neuron damage in the flies as expected, on the flip side, NEP also reduced the activity of important neural proteins called CREB proteins and shortened the average lifespan of the flies (normal flies live about 60 days) by about 10 days (although NEP-flies did live longer than those only expressing amyloid protein).
This study shows the care that must be taken when considering Alzheimer's treatments, and that it's critical to better understand normal aging when dealing with Alzheimer's or other age-related conditions.