Alzheimers cure may be a matter of size

22 Aug 2012

Size really does matter according to scientists looking for ways to cure Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Research conducted by scientists at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) at The University of Queensland (UQ) and Harvard University, has led to the discovery that treatment for Alzheimer’s disease may lie in modifying the length of subcellular structures in the brain responsible for metabolising energy, mitochondria.

The study found in cases where the mitochondria were abnormally long, they had a toxic effect inducing cell death.

Director, Centre for Ageing Dementia Research (CADR) at QBI and co-author of the paper, Jürgen Götz, explains:

“Alzheimer’s disease belongs to a group of neurodegenerative diseases termed ‘tauopathies’, charaterised by clumps of the protein tau inside neurons,” he said.

“In instances where neurons express toxic levels of human tau, the mitochondria are elongated.”

“All cells rely on mitochondria for energy metabolism, and neurons in particular, so controlling the length of these subcellular structures is very important for brain function,” says Professor Götz.

The research provides novel targets for therapeutic intervention.

“Treatments currently available for these diseases have at most modest effects, in part due to our limited understanding of how Alzheimer’s disease starts and progresses,” continues Professor Gotz.

The good news is, genetic and drug interventions aimed at reducing mitochondrial length reverse the toxic effects of tau, can now get underway.

“An aspect of mitochondrial regulation that is being increasingly appreciated are changes in size and shape of the organelle, through a process termed ’mitochondrial dynamics’,” says Professor Götz.

Alzheimer’s disease affects almost 280,000 Australians. This number grows by 1,600 each week and is expected to reach over 1 million people by 2050.