Has the cause for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s been found? Israeli researchers suggest that elevated levels of a protein called tomosyn in the brain are linked to these diseases, which affect a large part of the population. The findings may lead to previously unexplored treatment possibilities.
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Tel Aviv University researchers Professor Uri Ashery and Doctor Boaz Barak, used lab mice for the study and injected them with tomosyn. Tey then examined if the elevated levels of the protein damages the hippocampus, the part of the brain which is affected by neurodegenerative disease and leads to deterioration in memory and learning abilities.
“Communication between nervous cells in the brain is done by neurotransmitters which cause chemical and electrical reactions,” explains Barak. “The neurotransmitters pass from cell to cell in tiny vesicles. The transfer mechanism is meticulously regulated by nervous cells, to prevent over- or under transmission. One of the proteins which assist in regulating the rate of neurotransmitter movement is tomosyn, whose role is to inhibit the release of vesicles.”
New methods of treatment
To test the effects of tomosyn, the mice injected with the protein were given the Morris Water Maze Test, which tests their ability to navigate. Mice injected with tomosyn performed significantly worse – evidence that their memory and learning abilities have been damaged. The findings were given further assurance, when pathological changes were witnessed in the mice’s hippocampus.
“The research results have many implications,” says Ashery. “From a practical standpoint they help understand how the brain gets damaged as a result of illness or old age. We estimate that they suggest that it is possible that an increase in tomosyn expression in the hippocampus is linked to the appearance of neurodegenerative disease. We hope that in the future the findings may promote treatments for such diseases.”
The research, published on the journal NeuroMolecular Medicine, was done at Tel Aviv University, with participation from researchers from Bar Ilan University, Weizmann Institute, NIH and Michigan University.
Photo by *Ann Gordon