LDL Receptor Identified as Therapeutic Target for Alzheimer’s

By the time people with Alzheimer’s disease start exhibiting difficulty remembering and thinking, the disease has been developing in their brains for two decades or more, and their brain tissue already has sustained damage. As the disease progresses, the damage accumulates, and their symptoms worsen.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that high levels of a normal protein associated with reduced heart disease also protect against Alzheimer’s-like brain damage – at least in mice. The findings, published in Neuron, suggest that raising levels of the protein — known as low-density lipoprotein receptor (LDL receptor) — could potentially be a way to slow or stop cognitive decline.

The discovery of LDL receptor as a potential therapeutic target for dementia is surprising since the protein is much better known for its role in cholesterol metabolism. Statins and PCSK9 inhibitors, two groups of drugs widely prescribed for cardiovascular disease, work in part by increasing levels of LDL receptor in the liver and some other tissues. It is not known whether they affect LDL receptor levels in the brain.

There are not yet clearly effective therapies to preserve cognitive function in people with Alzheimer’s disease,” said senior author David Holtzman, MD, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and head of the Department of Neurology. “We found that increasing LDL receptor in the brain strongly decreases neurodegeneration and protects against brain injury in mice. If you could increase LDL receptor in the brain with a small molecule or other approach, it could be a very attractive treatment strategy.”

The key to the importance of LDL receptor lies in a different protein, APOE, that also is linked to both cholesterol metabolism and Alzheimer’s disease. High cholesterol in the blood is associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, although the exact nature of the association is unclear.

During the long, slow development of Alzheimer’s disease, plaques of a protein called amyloid gradually accumulate in the brain. After many years, another brain protein called tau starts forming tangles that become detectable just before Alzheimer’s symptoms arise. The tangles are thought to be toxic to neurons, and their spread through the brain foretells the death of brain tissue and cognitive decline. First author Yang Shi, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher, and Holtzman previously showed that APOE drives tau-mediated degeneration in the brain by activating microglia, the brain’s cellular janitorial crew. Once activated, microglia can injure neural tissue in their zeal to clean up molecular debris.

Higher levels of LDL receptor limit the damage APOE can do in part by binding to APOE and degrading it. Higher levels of LDL receptor in the brain, therefore, should pull more APOE out of the fluid surrounding brain cells and mitigate damage even further, the researchers reasoned.

CRISPR Treatment Destroys Cancer Cells

Researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) have demonstrated that the CRISPR/Cas9 system is very effective in treating metastatic cancers, a significant step on the way to finding a cure for cancer. The researchers developed a novel lipid nanoparticle-based delivery system that specifically targets cancer cells and destroys them by genetic manipulation. The system, called CRISPR-LNPs, carries a genetic messenger (messenger RNA), which encodes for the CRISPR enzyme Cas9 that acts as molecular scissors that cut the cells’ DNA.

The revolutionary work was conducted in the laboratory of Prof. Dan Peer at TAU. Dr. Daniel Rosenblum led the research together with Ph.D. student Anna Gutkin and colleagues.

To examine the feasibility of using the technology to treat cancer, Prof. Peer and his team chose two of the deadliest cancers: glioblastoma and metastatic ovarian cancer. Glioblastoma is the most aggressive type of brain cancer, with a life expectancy of 15 months after diagnosis and a five-year survival rate of only 3%. The researchers demonstrated that a single treatment with CRISPR-LNPs doubled the average life expectancy of mice with glioblastoma tumors, improving their overall survival rate by about 30%. Ovarian cancer is a major cause of death among women and the most lethal cancer of the female reproductive system. Most patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage of the disease when metastases have already spread throughout the body. Despite progress in recent years, only a third of the patients survive this disease. Treatment with CRISPR-LNPs in a metastatic ovarian cancer mice model increased their overall survival rate by 80%.

The CRISPR genome editing technology, capable of identifying and altering any genetic segment, has revolutionized our ability to disrupt, repair or even replace genes in a personalized manner,” said Prof. Peer. “Despite its extensive use in research, clinical implementation is still in its infancy because an effective delivery system is needed to safely and accurately deliver the CRISPR to its target cells. The delivery system we developed targets the DNA responsible for the cancer cells’ survival. This is an innovative treatment for aggressive cancers that have no effective treatments today.

This is the first study in the world to prove that the CRISPR genome editing system can be used to treat cancer effectively in a living animal,” explained Prof. Peer. “It must be emphasized that this is not chemotherapy. There are no side effects, and a cancer cell treated in this way will never become active again. The molecular scissors of Cas9 cut the cancer cell’s DNA, thereby neutralizing it and permanently preventing replication.”

The results of the groundbreaking study were published in November 2020 in Science Advances.

Source: https://english.tau.ac.il/

Eye Test Reveals How Likely Is A Person To Develop Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) begins to alter and damage the brain years — even decadesbefore symptoms appear, making early identification of AD risk paramount to slowing its progression.

In a new study published online in the September 9, 2019 issue of the Neurobiology of Aging , scientists at University of California San Diego School of Medicine say that, with further developments, measuring how quickly a person’s pupil dilates while they are taking cognitive tests may be a low-cost, low-invasive method to aid in screening individuals at increased genetic risk for AD before cognitive decline begins.

In recent years, researchers investigating the pathology of AD have primarily directed their attention at two causative or contributory factors: the accumulation of protein plaques in the brain called amyloid-beta and tangles of a protein called tau. Both have been linked to damaging and killing neurons, resulting in progressive cognitive dysfunction.

The new study focuses on pupillary responses which are driven by the locus coeruleus (LC), a cluster of neurons in the brainstem involved in regulating arousal and also modulating cognitive function. Tau is the earliest occurring known biomarker for AD; it first appears in the LC; and it is more strongly associated with cognition than amyloid-beta. The study was led by first author William S. Kremen, PhD, and senior author Carol E. Franz, PhD, both professors of psychiatry and co-directors of the Center for Behavior Genetics of Aging at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

The LC drives pupillary response — the changing diameter of the eyes’ pupils — during cognitive tasks. (Pupils get bigger the more difficult the brain task.) In previously published work, the researchers had reported that adults with mild cognitive impairment, often a precursor to AD, displayed greater pupil dilation and cognitive effort than cognitively normal individuals, even if both groups produced equivalent results. Critically, in the latest paper, the scientists link pupillary dilation responses with identified AD risk genes.

face of an elderly man

How quickly a person’s pupils dilate while doing mental tasks may be an indicator of increased genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Given the evidence linking pupillary responses, LC and tau and the association between pupillary response and AD polygenic risk scores (an aggregate accounting of factors to determine an individual’s inherited AD risk), these results are proof-of-concept that measuring pupillary response during cognitive tasks could be another screening tool to detect Alzheimer’s before symptom appear,” said Kremen.

Source: https://health.ucsd.edu/

New Theory To Prevent Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia among the elderly, is characterized by plaques and tangles in the brain, with most efforts at finding a cure focused on these abnormal structures. But a University of California, Riverside, research team has identified alternate chemistry that could account for the various pathologies associated with the diseasePlaques and tangles have so far been the focus of attention in this progressive disease that currently afflicts more than 5.5 million people in the United States. Plaques, deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid, look like clumps in the spaces between neurons. Tangles, twisted fibers of tau, another protein, look like bundles of fibers that build up inside cells.

The dominant theory based on beta-amyloid buildup has been around for decades, and dozens of clinical trials based on that theory have been attempted, but all have failed,” said Ryan R. Julian, a professor of chemistry who led the research team. “In addition to plaques, lysosomal storage is observed in brains of people who have Alzheimer’s disease. Neurons — fragile cells that do not undergo cell division — are susceptible to lysosomal problems, specifically, lysosomal storage, which we report is a likely cause of Alzheimer’s disease.”

An organelle within the cell, the lysosome serves as the cell’s trashcan. Old proteins and lipids get sent to the lysosome to be broken down to their building blocks, which are then shipped back out to the cell to be built into new proteins and lipids. To maintain functionality, the synthesis of proteins is balanced by the degradation of proteins.

The lysosome, however, has a weakness: If what enters does not get broken down into little pieces, then those pieces also can’t leave the lysosome. The cell decides the lysosome is not working and “stores it, meaning the cell pushes the lysosome to the side and proceeds to make a new one. If the new lysosome also fails, the process is repeated, resulting in lysosome storage.

The brains of people who have lysosomal storage disorder, another well-studied disease, and the brains of people who have Alzheimer’s disease are similar in terms of lysosomal storage,” Julian said. “But lysosomal storage disorder symptoms show up within a few weeks after birth and are often fatal within a couple of years. Alzheimer’s disease occurs much later in life. The time frames are, therefore, very different.”

Julian’s collaborative team of researchers in the Department of Chemistry and the Division of Biomedical Sciences at UC Riverside posits that long-lived proteins, including beta-amyloid and tau, can undergo spontaneous modifications that can make them undigestible by the lysosomes. “Long-lived proteins become more problematic as we age and could account for the lysosomal storage seen in Alzheimer’s, an age-related disease,” Julian said. “If we are correct, it would open up new avenues for treatment and prevention of this disease.”

Study results appear in ACS Central Science, a journal of the American Chemical Society.

Source: https://news.ucr.edu/

Injection Of Nanoparticle Effective Against Melanoma

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a novel nano-vaccine for melanoma, the most aggressive type of skin cancer. Their innovative approach has so far proven effective in preventing the development of melanoma in mouse models and in treating primary tumors and metastases that result from melanoma. The focus of the research is on a nanoparticle that serves as the basis for the new vaccine. The study was led by Prof. Ronit Satchi-Fainaro, chair of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology and head of the Laboratory for Cancer Research and Nanomedicine at TAU‘s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, and Prof. Helena Florindo of the University of Lisbon while on sabbatical at the Satchi-Fainaro lab at TAU. Melanoma develops in the skin cells that produce melanin or skin pigment.

The war against cancer in general, and melanoma in particular, has advanced over the years through a variety of treatment modalities, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy; but the vaccine approach, which has proven so effective against various viral diseases, has not materialized yet against cancer,” says Prof. Satchi-Fainaro. “In our study, we have shown for the first time that it is possible to produce an effective nano-vaccine against melanoma and to sensitize the immune system to immunotherapies.

The researchers harnessed tiny particles, about 170 nanometers in size, made of a biodegradable polymer. Within each particle, they “packed two peptides — short chains of amino acids, which are expressed in melanoma cells. They then injected the nanoparticles (or “nano-vaccines“) into a mouse model bearing melanoma. “The nanoparticles acted just like known vaccines for viral-borne diseases,” Prof. Satchi-Fainaro explains. “They stimulated the immune system of the mice, and the immune cells learned to identify and attack cells containing the two peptides — that is, the melanoma cells. This meant that, from now on, the immune system of the immunized mice will attack melanoma cells if and when they appear in the body.”

The results were published recently in Nature Nanotechnology.

Source: https://english.tau.ac.il/

First 3D Printed Heart

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have managed to 3D print a heart using a patient’s cells and biological materials — a first. Scientists have previously built synthetic hearts and bio-engineered tissues using a patient’s cells. But the latest feat is the first time scientists have created a complex organ with biological materials.

This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers,” lead researcher Tal Dvir, a material scientist and professor of molecular cell biology at TAU, said in a news release.

The proof-of-concept feat could pave the way for a new type of organ transplant. For patients with late stage heart failure, a heart transplant is the only solution. But there is a lack of heart donors.

This heart is made from human cells and patient-specific biological materials. In our process these materials serve as the bioinks, substances made of sugars and proteins that can be used for 3D printing of complex tissue models,” Dvir said. “Our results demonstrate the potential of our approach for engineering personalized tissue and organ replacement in the future.”

The heart scientists printed couldn’t be used in a human transplant operation. Though completely vascularized, it’s too small at about the size of a rabbit heart. “But larger human hearts require the same technology.” Dvir said.

Researchers detailed their breakthrough this week in the journal Advanced Science.

Source: https://www.upi.com/

Potential Revolutionnary Treatment For Alzheimer’s

Leaky capillaries in the brain portend early onset of Alzheimer’s disease as they signal cognitive impairment before hallmark toxic proteins appear, new USC research shows. The findings, which appear in Nature Medicine, could help with earlier diagnosis and suggest new targets for drugs that could slow or prevent the onset of the disease.

The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s is expected to more than double to about 14 million in 40 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Five Alzheimer’s drugs are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to temporarily help with memory and thinking problems, but none treats the underlying cause of the disease or slow its progression. Researchers believe that successful treatment will eventually involve a combination of drugs aimed at multiple targets.

USC’s five-year study, which involved 161 older adults, showed that people with the worst memory problems also had the most leakage in their brain’s blood vessels — regardless of whether abnormal proteins amyloid and tau were present.

This image depicts a blood vessel in the brain that has become leaky, or permeable.

The fact that we’re seeing the blood vessels leaking, independent of tau and independent of amyloid, when people have cognitive impairment on a mild level, suggests it could be a totally separate process or a very early process,” said senior author Berislav Zlokovic, director of the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “That was surprising that this blood-brain barrier breakdown is occurring independently.”

In healthy brains, the cells that make up blood vessels fit together so tightly they form a barrier that keeps stray cells, pathogens, metals and other unhealthy substances from reaching brain tissue. Scientists call this the blood-brain barrier. In some aging brains, the seams between cells loosen, and the blood vessels become permeable.

If the blood-brain barrier is not working properly, then there is the potential for damage,” said co-author Arthur Toga, director of the USC Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute at the Keck School of Medicine. “It suggests the vessels aren’t properly providing the nutrients and blood flow that the neurons need. And you have the possibility of toxic proteins getting in.

Participants in the study had their memory and thinking ability assessed through a series of tasks and tests, resulting in measures of cognitive function and a “clinical dementia rating score.” Individuals diagnosed with disorders that might account for cognitive impairment were excluded. The researchers used neuroimaging and cerebral spinal fluid analysis to measure the permeability, or leakiness, of capillaries serving the brain’s hippocampus, and found a strong correlation between impairment and leakage.

“The results were really kind of eye-opening,” said first author Daniel Nation, an assistant professor of psychology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “It didn’t matter whether people had amyloid or tau pathology; they still had cognitive impairment.”

Source: https://news.usc.edu/