Can brain cell structures that promote cell-to-cell communication be rebuilt in Alzheimer’s?
Sanjoy Bhattacharya, Ph.D.
University of Miami School of Medicine
Coral Gables, FL - United States
Nerve cells use long, thread-like extensions called axons to “talk” to other brain cells. In Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, however, these axons become damaged, a process that disrupts cell-to-cell communication and contributes to memory loss and other forms of cognitive (brain function) decline
Recently, scientists have been exploring ways of rebuilding damaged or lost axons, in order to prevent and slow the progression of cognitive decline. In initial studies with genetically engineered Alzheimer’s-like mice, Dr. Sanjoy Bhattacharya and colleagues examined structures at the ends of axons called growth cones – structures from which the axons develop. They found that the growth cones contained specific mixes of proteins and fats. Some of these growth cones were reduced in number early in the progression of Alzheimer’s related brain changes. They also found that other proteins could promote the restoration of growth cones in their model system. Restoring these growth cones may help regrow axons necessary to brain cell function.
Dr. Bhattacharya and colleagues will expand on their earlier findings by examining six types of growth cone complexes in the brain and the optic nerve (the structure that connects the brain to the eye) of Alzheimer’s-like mice. They will determine the levels of these growth cone complexes at various stages of disease. Next, they will assess whether different combinations of proteins promote the regrowth of axons in the brain and optic nerves, and whether they improve the animals’ memory and visual function.
Results from this project could shed new light on how brain cell communication and function become damaged in Alzheimer’s disease. They could also lead to novel approaches for therapy development.
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