Sugary Protein Could Play Key Role In Alzheimer’s Disease

In a bit of “reverse engineering” research using brain tissues from five people who died with Alzheimer’s disease, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers say they discovered that a special sugar molecule could play a key role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. If further research confirms the finding, the molecule, known as a glycan, could serve as a new target for early diagnostic tests, treatments and perhaps prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, say the researchers.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in the United States. Affecting an estimated 5.8 million Americans, the progressive disorder occurs when nerve cells in the brain die due to the buildup of harmful forms of proteins called amyloid and tau.

Cleaning up the disease-causing forms of amyloid and tau is the job of the brain’s immune cells, called microglia. Earlier studies found that when cleanup is impaired, Alzheimer’s disease is more likely to occur. In some people, this is caused by an overabundance of a receptor on the microglia cells, called CD33.

A sugar molecule, known as a glycan, could serve as a new target for early diagnostic tests, treatments, and perhaps prevention of Alzheimer’s disease

Receptors are not active on their own. Something needs to connect with them to block microglia from cleaning up these toxic proteins in the brain,” says Ronald Schnaar, Ph.D., the John Jacob Abel Professor of Pharmacology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of the laboratory that led the study.

Past studies by the researchers showed that for CD33, these “connector” molecules are special sugars. Known to scientists as glycans, these molecules are ferried around the cell by specialized proteins that help them find their appropriate receptors. The protein-glycan combination is called a glycoprotein.

The study was published online April 20 in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Source: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/