Breakthrough using atomic science can treat Alzheimer’s

London: British researchers have succeeded in revealing the atomic structure of one of the abnormal filaments that lead to Alzheimer’s disease, a study has said.

Researchers at the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) on Wednesday said understanding the structure of the filaments was key to the development of drugs to prevent their formation, and will help find better compounds for diagnosing and treating Alzheimer’s, Xinhua news agency reported.

The researchers, whose study is published in the journal Nature, believe that the structures they have uncovered could also suggest how Tau protein may form different filaments in other neurodegenerative diseases.

The team said that their findings opened up a whole new era in neurodegenerative diseases. The results should make it easier to design drugs to stop brain cells dying.

Alzheimer’s, the most common neurodegenerative diseases, is characterised by the existence of two types of abnormal “amyloid” forms of protein which form lesions in the brain.

The latest research paper comes almost 30 years after the LMB scientists identified Tau protein as an integral component of the lesions found in Alzheimer’s and a range of other neurodegenerative diseases.

Until now scientists had been unable to identify the atomic structure of the filaments.

Tau forms filaments inside nerve cells and amyloid-beta forms filaments outside cells. Tau lesions appear to have a stronger correlation to the loss of cognitive ability in patients with the disease.

Dr Rob Buckle, Chief Science Officer at the MRC, which funded the research, said: “This ground-breaking work is a major contribution to our understanding of Alzheimer’s. Nearly 30 years ago scientists at the LMB were the first to discover that Tau protein plays a key role in the disease. Knowing the basic structure of these filaments in diseased tissue is vital for the development of drugs to combat their formation.

“This research opens up new possibilities to study a range of other diseases where the accumulation of abnormal protein filaments plays a role, including Parkinson’s, motor neuron disease and prion diseases.”

Fellow senior author Dr Michel Goedert, who also worked on the original research 30 years ago, said: “We have known for almost three decades that the abnormal assembly of Tau protein into filaments is a defining characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Until now the high-resolution structures of Tau or any other disease-causing filaments from human brain tissue have remained unknown. This new work will help to develop better compounds for diagnosing and treating Alzheimer’s and other diseases which involve defective Tau.”