Metabolic studies could lead to new therapies, says a Tel Aviv University researcher
When it comes to Alzheimer's disease, scientists usually - and understandably - look to the brain as their first center of attention. Now researchers at Tel Aviv University say that early clues regarding the progression of the disease can be found in the brain's metabolism.
In very early stages of the disease, before any symptoms appear, metabolic processes are already beginning to change in the brain, says PhD candidate Shiri Stempler of TAU's Sackler Faculty of Medicine. Working with Profs. Eytan Ruppin and Lior Wolf of TAU's Blavatnik School of Computer Science, Stempler has developed predictor models that use metabolic information to pinpoint the progression of Alzheimer's. These models were 90 percent accurate in predicting the stage of the disease.
Published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, the research is the first step towards identifying biomarkers that may ensure better detection and analysis of the disease at an early stage, all with a simple blood test. It could also lead to novel therapies. "We hope that by studying metabolism, and the alterations to metabolism that occur in the very early stages of the disease, we can find new therapeutic strategies," adds Stempler.
Interrupting a regulated process
Metabolism describes a set of chemical reactions in cells which sustain life by controlling processes such as growth and reproduction. It is also responsible for providing energy to the body. To delve deeper into the connection between metabolism, brain functioning, and Alzheimer's disease, the researchers used data collected from the hippocampus region of the brain. Controlling memory and learning, this region of the brain is damaged as Alzheimer's progresses.
Based on the number of metabolic genes found in the neurons and surrounding tissue, they built a predictive model which relates abnormalities in these genes to the progression of the disease. Out of almost 1500 genes, the researchers were able to select 50 genes that were the most predictive of Alzheimer's, says Stempler, noting that in Alzheimer's patients these genes are either over or under expressed, meaning that there are either too many or too few.