An Anglo-American team of researchers have made a medical breakthrough after identifying a large collection of nerve proteins that are involved in around 130 brain diseases including Alzheimer’s and autism.
The team isolated the 1,461 proteins after investigating synapses, neural connection points, in patients undergoing brain surgery. Each of these proteins is encoded by a different gene they found. They coalesce to form a molecular machine known as the postsynaptic density, or PSD. They found that proteins in the PSD are especially important for cognitive behaviours such as learning and memory, emotion and mood, as well as social behaviours and addiction or drug abuse. This could mean new drugs that can target more than one brain disease they speculate.
Professor Seth Grant, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire said, “We found that over 130 brain diseases involve the PSD - far more than expected… These diseases include common debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders, as well as epilepsies and childhood developmental diseases including forms of autism and learning disability… Our findings have shown that the human PSD is at centre stage of a large range of human diseases affecting many millions of people.” The study is reported in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
Co-author Professor Jeffrey Noebels, from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas added, “We now have a comprehensive molecular list of more than 1,000 suspects…Every seventh protein in this line-up is involved in a known clinical disorder and over half of them are repeat offenders.”
Professor Jonathan Seckl, of the Queen’s Medical Research Institute in Edinburgh added, “This splendid collaborative study is a major step forward which will illuminate the causes of many of the major mental health and neurological disorders as well as indicating new ways to develop treatments.” Professor Grant said, “There is a potential gold-rush, a whole new frontier for drug discovery.”
This project was conducted as part of the Genes to Cognition Program, which is a research program aimed at understanding the molecular basis of behaviour and brain disease.