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Scientists uncover new clues to Alzheimer’s risk gene that affects one in six

September 7, 2011
UK scientists have uncovered how a known risk gene for Alzheimer’s might play a role in the development of the disease. The study – which was funded by Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK – provides an exciting new area of investigation for researchers developing treatments and ultimately a cure for the disease. It is being published in the current issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Researchers at King’s College London investigated the links between the APOE gene and Alzheimer’s disease. A variant of the gene, APOE4, which is carried by one in six people, has already been linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s, but until now it has been unclear exactly how the gene is involved in the development of the disease.

The team discovered that APOE binds to a protein in the brain called TMCC2. When these bound proteins were present, scientists also discovered higher levels of amyloid, which is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s. This correlation was particularly evident with APOE4.
The researchers now want to further investigate this interaction, and hope that by developing drugs to target the APOE gene, the disease could be stopped in its tracks.

Study lead author Dr Paul Hopkins said: “Our findings show for the first time how the APOE gene might contribute to the production of amyloid and the development of Alzheimer’s, and gives us a new potential treatment target. We hope that if we can find ways of changing the activity of the gene, we may be able to prevent the disease developing. It’s now crucial that we renew our efforts and follow up these findings, as we still need to know more about the underlying processes that cause Alzheimer’s. Research is the only way we can defeat dementia.”

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “These important findings give us new insight into what may be happening in the brain as Alzheimer’s disease takes hold. Although there is still much we need to know about the causes of Alzheimer’s, this study could represent a significant step forward for research. If we can understand how Alzheimer’s develops we stand a far better chance of developing new treatments that are so desperately needed. With 820,000 people affected by dementia in the UK, we urgently need to invest in research that could bring hope for the future.”

Dr Anne Corbett, Research Manager at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “The UK has some of the world’s best dementia researchers. This latest study shows once again how they are leading the way in the quest to develop new treatments and ultimately a cure. However, their efforts continue to be hampered by a chronic lack of investment. One in three people over 65 will die with dementia. The only way we can move forward with research such as this is if we make dementia a priority and spend now.”

The study was funded with grants from Alzheimer’s Research UK and Alzheimer’s Society.