Researchers at University of Helsinki, Finland, have shown in a study conducted on zebrafish, that the presenilin-1 (psen1) gene associated with Alzheimer's disease functions as a central regulator for the development of the histamine system. Histamine system is also altered in patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Research has shown that mutations in the psen1 gene are common in the familial forms of Alzheimer's disease, and the Presenilin-1 protein that the gene encodes is known to be involved in the cleavage of the amyloid precursor protein. In Alzheimer's disease the amyloid precursor protein is not cleaved the normal way, and the protein accumulates in the brain damaging neuronal tracts and neurons. It is still unknown if the psen1 gene is involved in the etiology of Alzheimer's disease via another mechanism.
Professor Pertti Panula's research team at the University of Helsinki has elucidated the role of psen1 gene in the development of the neuronal histamine system and its modulation. Histamine is one of the neurotransmitters, which all are essential for cognitive functions, which in turn are impaired in Alzheimer's disease. The histamine system is altered during the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
In the study the zebrafish was used as a model organism. The rapidly developing zebrafish is suitable as a model organism, as its transparency allows researchers to study the development and function of vital organs. To study the function of psen1 gene, zebrafish that did not produce functional Presenilin-1 protein were generated. Despite the fact that the fish lacked functional Presenilin-1 they were viable and developed until adulthood.
The lack of Presenilin-1 protein induced a change in the behavior of the larval zebrafish, they did not as normal fish react to fast changes in the light intensity. "Based on previous research we know that this change in behavior is associated with lack of histamine in the brain", Panula explains.
In adulthood the motor behavior of the mutant zebrafish differed from the normal fish: the fish swam by the edges of the arena that was available and avoided the inner part. Previous studies from the group have shown that this behavioral alteration also is due to changes in the histamine system.
The researchers found that larval fish lacking Presenilin-1 protein had significantly fewer histamine neurons; in adulthood the histamine neuron number was significantly increased in these fish when compared with normal fish.