The latest research from the Buck Institute in Novato, California, has identified a possible trigger for Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and has determined that resveratrol, an antioxidant present in red wine, could benefit sufferers. The research, which has been published this month in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revolves around ApoE4, a cholesterol-carrying protein associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, and SirT1, a member of the sirtuin family of proteins.
ApoE4 is generally found in just 25% of the American population, but is found in 66% of Alzheimer’s sufferers, so scientists are certain that it is a genetic risk factor implicated in AD but it is not understood exactly how ApoE4 is involved in the development of the disease. SirT1 has been nicknamed the “anti-ageing protein” after another study earlier this year confirmed that it improved the performance of the energy production centres in body cells, known as mitrochondria, which helped to prevent disease states occurring in the body.
The Buck Institute study found that ApoE4 reduces levels of SirT1, which is one of seven sirtuin proteins found in the body, and this may account for the neuro-degeneration seen in Alzheimer’s disease. It appears that when SirT1 is depleted, ApoE4 tended to form a peptide, beta-amyloid, which has been linked to the formation of the viscous plaque typically observed in cases of Alzheimer’s.
The study revealed that resveratrol can help to prevent the production of the plaque by stimulating the synthesis of SirT1. Resveratrol is found in dark red fruits such as red grapes, cranberries and blueberries, and also in cocoa and peanuts. Red wine and red grape juice also provide good dietary sources. Synthetic resveratrol, rather than that obtained from botanic sources, can be manufactured for use in pharmaceuticals.
Lead scientists Rammohan Rao, PhD, co-author of the study, and an Associate Research Professor at the Buck, and Dale Bredesen, MD, founding CEO of the Buck Institute, stated that low SirT1 was seen in samples from AD sufferers carrying the ApoE4 protein. “The biochemical mechanisms that link ApoE4 to Alzheimer’s disease have been something of a black box. However, recent work from a number of labs, including our own, has begun to open the box,” said Bredesen.
Rao added: “This research offers a new type of screen for Alzheimer’s prevention and treatment. One of our goals is to identify a safe, non-toxic treatment that could be given to anyone who carries the ApoE4 gene to prevent the development of AD.”
AD affects over 5 million Americans and is currently incurable so any advances in treatment must surely be welcomed; incidences of the condition are rising steadily, as this excerpt from the report indicates: "The prevalence of people with Alzheimer’s doubles for every 5-year interval beyond age 65. The significant growth in the population over age 85 that is estimated to occur between 2010 and 2030 (from 5.5 million to 8.7 million) suggests a substantial increase in the number of people with Alzheimer’s."
The disease gradually impairs brain function over a period of several years, and causes cognitive symptoms, such as problems with memory and understanding, and behavioural and psychological symptoms, such as agitation, wandering and hallucinating.
At present, after diagnosis, there is little that can be done to slow down the disease progression, so preventive treatments are vital for the 2.5% of the population who are known to carry two genes for ApoE4, putting them at an approximate 10-fold higher risk of developing AD, as well as for the quarter of the population who carry the single gene. The group hopes that the current work will identify simple, safe therapeutics that can be given to ApoE4 carriers to prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease; it is certainly encouraging that the key substance in this case has been derived from nature, and that disease prevention could be achieved through changes in diet or from the use of natural supplements.
The Buck Institute is the first research organization in the US to focus solely on Geroscience, an interdisciplinary field examining the relationship between aging and age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, cancer, cardiovascular disease, macular degeneration, osteoporosis, diabetes and strokes. The research also encompasses genomics and bioinformatics, which look at DNA sequencing; protoemics, which is the study of proteins, and stem cell technologies.
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