Research led by Chu Chen, PhD, Associate Professor of Neuroscience at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, has identified an enzyme called Monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL) as a new therapeutic target to treat or prevent Alzheimer's disease. The study was published online November 1, 2012 in the Online Now section of the journal Cell Reports.
The research team found that inactivation of MAGL, best known for its role in degrading a cannabinoid produced in the brain, reduced the production and accumulation of beta amyloid plaques, a pathological hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. Inhibition of this enzyme also decreased neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration, and improved plasticity of the brain, learning and memory.
"Our results suggest that MAGL contributes to the cause and development of Alzheimer's disease and that blocking MAGL represents a promising therapeutic target," notes Dr. Chu Chen, who is also a member of the Department of Otolaryngology at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans.
The researchers blocked MAGL with a highly selective and potent inhibitor in mice using different dosing regimens and found that inactivation of MAGL for eight weeks was sufficient to decrease production and deposition of beta amyloid plaques and the function of a gene involved in making beta amyloid toxic to brain cells. They also measured indicators of neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration and found them suppressed when MAGL was inhibited. The team discovered that not only did the integrity of the structure and function of synapses associated with cognition remain intact in treated mice, but MAGL inactivation appeared to promote spatial learning and memory, measured with behavioral testing.