Despite many medical advances, there is currently still no effective way to stop the progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Professor Illana Gozes of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine is hoping her creation of a new peptide (a short chain of amino acids, similar to a protein), called NAP, can help lead the way to a successful treatment.
As neurodegenerative diseases progress, the nervous system structure called the microtubule network breaks down. It starts failing to deliver essential proteins and communications between cells – leading to common symptoms such as memory loss. The peptide that Gozes and her team of researchers have developed has the potential to both protect and restore microtubule function.
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“NAP appears to have widespread potential in terms of neuroprotection,” says Gozes. She notes that “more research must be conducted to discover how to optimize the use of NAP as a treatment, including which patients can benefit most from intervention.”
To check the efficiency of NAP, the TAU research team used mice genetically engineered with ALS (also known as Motor Neurone Disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease) so that they had a chronically damaged microtubule system. Half the mice were given a single NAP injection, while the control group was not (the complementary group, which receives no treatment).
As if there’s no disease
To determine the impact of the new peptide on nerve cell communication, the researchers administered the chemical element Manganese to all the mice and tracked its movement throughout their brains. In the mice treated with NAP the manganese traveled normally in the brain. The mice that did not receive the peptide experienced the expected neurodegenerative breakdown and continued dysfunction of the microtubule system.
Subsequent studies have corroborated these findings and also discovered that NAP has a positive impact on rectifying microtubule deficiencies in schizophrenia patients. Other studies have also shown that patients suffering from cognitive dysfunction showed significant improvement in their cognitive scores after being treated with NAP.
Professor Gozes is the director of TAU’s Adams Super Center for Brain Studies and holds the Lily and Avraham Gildor Chair for the Investigation of Growth Factors. Her findings were reported in the scientific journal Neurobiology of Disease. She worked with Doctor Yan Jouroukhim and TAU graduate student, Regin Ostrisky on the study.