In particular, it may reduce the risk of the formation of senile plaques in the brains of patients with AD, say the findings by Dr. Olav M. Andersen, Professor Thomas Willnow (both from the MDC).

A hallmark of Alzheimer disease are protein plaques in the brain which accumulate over many years. They are derived from the amyloid precursor protein (APP) which for unknown reasons is chopped up into smaller fragments, including the amyloid beta peptide, which forms these dangerous plaques. The plaques destroy the patients' nerve cells and lead to dementia, impairing the patients memory, thinking, and behaviour. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) more than four million Americans suffer from AD, an incurable disease. The older one gets, the greater the risk of developing this disease. It is estimated that about half of the individuals over 85 years of age are affected.

Willnow and his colleagues were able to demonstrate that the molecule, named sorLa (abb. sorting protein-related receptor), binds to APP in nerve cells and thus prevents its dissection into the amyloid beta peptide. They could also show that genetically modified mice which cannot produce sorLA have increased levels of amyloid beta peptides because APP is destructed at a much higher rate than in healthy animals.

The researchers also looked at the brains of patients who died from AD and compared them with subjects who had not suffered from this disease. Surprisingly, the nerve cells of the AD patients had not produced sorLA, but the nerve cells of the control group had done so. The researchers conclude that in individuals whose brains produce little or no sorLA, the uncontrolled production of amyloid beta peptides likely accelerates onset and progression of neurodegenerative processes, making sorLA an important risk factor for AD.; Source: Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch