Restoring a signalling molecule to the brain reverses Alzheimer-like damage in mice. In both Alzheimer's disease and Down's syndrome, a group of brain cells called the basal forebrain cholinergic neurons shrivels and dies. The brain chemical, acetylcholine, which these neurons produce, is lost and, since it is involved in learning and memory, results in cognitive decline.
In London and California, researchers now reveal that it is the lack of a signalling molecule called nerve growth factor (NGF) which underlies this neuronal loss. In mice with experimental forms of these diseases, transport of NGF to these areas was impaired as the mice aged.
What's more, infusing NGF into areas close to the vulnerable cells reversed the damage. A gene therapy trial in humans, where NGF is being delivered to the basal forebrain, is already underway - to show whether the treatment is safe. If the mice results are anything to go by, the clinical trial could be a winner - and thus a cure for Alzheimer's disease.