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AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 27, Number 3, 2018

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Scientists create molecular tool to remove toxic protein from neuronal models of dementia

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Harnessing a probe used to image the brain in diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease and related forms of dementia, scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have successfully cleared patient-derived brain cells of an abnormal protein associated with dementia and other neurogenerative disorders.

The findings provide a new tool to study the accumulation of abnormal tau protein that occurs in the brain cells of patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, researchers say. It can help examine the effects of the rapid removal of abnormal tau from cells and may even suggest ways of preventing or reversing a build-up of the protein.

“Tau has an important role in the cell: it binds to and stabilizes structures called microtubules, which give cells their shape,” says Fleur Ferguson, PhD, of Dana-Farber, co-first author of the study with M. Catarina Silva, PhD, of MGH. “However, in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, frontotemporal dementia [FTD], and progressive supranuclear palsy, abnormal tau accumulates in brain cells, which may be linked to the progression of the disease. We want to understand more about the role these aberrant proteins play in disease.”

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