An enzyme that helps brain cells function normally also protects against Alzheimer's, scientists said Wednesday in a finding that could lead to better treatments for the illness.
Brain cells need the enzyme called Pin1 to stay healthy but researchers in the United States, who identified it in 1995, have discovered it can also prevent tangles of protein in the brain which are a characteristic sign of Alzheimer's disease.
"This will allow people to look in different directions in thinking about how Alzheimer's disease develops in the first place," Dr. Kun Ping Lu, of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, said in an interview. He said that Pin1 (poly1 isomerase) plays a major role in protecting against Alzheimer's and other age-related brain disorders.
Alzheimer's disease affects an estimated 12 million people around the globe. Former U.S. president Ronald Reagan and actor Charlton Heston have been diagnosed with the illness. A build-up of amyloid plaque and tangles of a protein called tau cause the incurable progressive illness that robs people of their memory and mental ability.
In studies of transgenic mice which lacked the Pin1 gene, the scientists also discovered that the deletion of the gene was enough to cause age-related brain changes in the animals. They uncovered an unexpected cancer connection too. In laboratory studies, Lu noticed that the enzyme is over-expressed in human cancers, many of which are more common as people grow older. They believe it could be a link between the two types of age-related illnesses.