Alzheimer’s researchers at the University of Virginia have discovered how harmful tau proteins damage the essential operating instructions for our brain cells, a finding which could lead to new treatments.
The toxic protein, the researchers found, warps the shape of the nuclei of nerve cells, or neurons. This alters the function of genes contained inside and reprograms the cells to make more tau.
While the protein has long been a prime suspect in Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative “tauopathies,” the new research from UVA’s George Bloom, PhD, his recently graduated student Xuehan Sun, PhD, and collaborators is among the first to identify concrete physical harms that tau causes to neurons. As such, it offers researchers exciting leads as they work to develop new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and tauopathies, which are now untreatable.
“A lot of fantastic research has been done by other labs to learn how toxic tau spreads from neuron to neuron in the brain, but very little is known about exactly how this toxic tau damages neurons, and that question is the motivation for our new paper,” said Bloom, of UVA’s Departments of Biology, Cell Biology and Neuroscience, as well as the UVA Brain Institute, the Virginia Alzheimer’s Disease Center and UVA’s Program in Fundamental Neuroscience. “The toxic tau described here is actually released from neurons, so if we can figure out how to intercept it when it’s floating around in the brain outside of neurons, using antibodies or other drugs, it might be possible to slow or halt progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other tauopathies.”
Read full press release in the UVA Health Newsroom.