Can boosting the brain's garbage disposal system help us combat Alzheimer's?

A team of researchers led by Columbia cell biologists Karen Duff and Natura Myeku recently demonstrated that boosting the brain’s garbage disposal system holds potential for treating diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s. Brain cells must continually get rid of old proteins, breaking them down for recycling. In neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s, clumps of leftover proteins accumulate, hindering the cell’s ability to function.

Duff and Myeku’s team conducted a series of experiments on mice genetically engineered to have Alzheimer’s-like symptoms, dosing them with the drug rolipram. The rolipram accelerated the breakdown and disposal of worn-out proteins, reducing protein buildup in the cell. After dosing, the mice’s memory immediately improved.

“The change we witnessed in the mice was dramatic—they went from having almost no short-term memory to perfectly normal cognition,” said Duff.

The team’s discovery suggests that other methods of accelerating the protein disposal process may also provide effective treatments for Alzheimer’s and related disorders, offering a new strategy in the fight against neurodegenerative conditions. Learn more.

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