Scientists at the University of California, Riverside, have found new information regarding a possible cause of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The study focused on the brain's "tau proteins," which are likely the cause of "neurofibrillary tangles" — something found in Alzheimer's patients.
According to a press release for the school, researchers have "suggested that amyloid plaques, which are a buildup of amyloid peptides, may also be the cause." The plaques and tangles are the two things doctors look for when making an Alzheimer's diagnosis.
However, "roughly 20 percent of people have the plaques, but no signs of dementia. This makes it seem as though the plaques themselves are not the cause," noted UCR chemistry professor Ryan Julian.
Scientists looked at proteins in donated brain samples to analyze their structures, which as known as an isomer.
"An isomer is the same molecule with a different three-dimensional orientation than the original," explained Julian. "A common example would be hands. Hands are isomers of each other, mirror images but not exact copies. Isomers can actually have a handedness."
In their studies with brains where there was an accumulation of the tau protein but no Alzheimer’s diagnosis, they found that the tau protein was different-handed from those who had plaques or tangles and did have Alzheimer’s.
"If you try to put a right-handed glove on your left hand, it doesn’t work too well," the professor said. "It’s a similar problem in biology; molecules don’t work the way they’re supposed to after a while because a left-handed glove can actually convert into a right-handed glove that doesn’t fit."
Normally, the human body uses the process known as autophagy to correct the defective cells, but this slows down as we age, most notably in people ages 65 and over. At the moment, the cause of autophagy is unknown, though there are drugs being tested to improve its efficiency in older individuals.
Stated Julian: "If there is a connection between autophagy and developing Alzheimer’s, if a slowdown in autophagy is the underlying cause, things that increase it should have the beneficial, opposite effect."