Gene research

A genetic alternative to the dominant current belief that Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a build-up of toxic proteins known as amyloids has been put forward in research published in the journal Nature.

A quarter of the population carries one copy of the gene known as APOE4 and this inheritance from one parent doubles the risk of getting Alzheimer’s. For the 2-3% who have two copies inherited from both parents, the risk of dementia increases about tenfold.

The research on mice shows for the first time that APOE4 prevents the proper development of oligodendrocytes in the brain. These cells produce myelin which helps to prevent neuron degradation which, should it occur, is thought to cause the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Researchers also found that a drug, cyclodextrin, when applied to oligodendrocytes cultured in a dish, provided better myelin and, when given to mice carrying APOE4, improved learning and memory. These results suggest the possibility of a new a new treatment path.