Monday, April 8, 2013

DNA Damage in the Brain Linked with Alzheimer's

It was found in a study reported by The Huffington Post that the brain can become damaged by common experiences like interacting in a new environment. Luckily this type of damage heals rapidly and is indeed normal but when a person has Alzheimer's disease it allows for the damage to not be healed due to the build up of abnormal proteins.

Scientists studied young adult mice that were placed in a new environment able to explore and create new brain activity for two hours. The protein known as gamma-H2A.X is what builds up when DNA breaks occur from these new learning experiences. When the DNA breaks, either one strand can break or two, where one break is normal and two breaks were thought to occur in brain's with disease. From studying the perfectly healthy mice, researcher Lennart Mucke was able to discover that double strand breaks are in fact normal and not harmful to brain development and learning.

It is uncertain why these breaks occur from new experiences but it seems to be that these breaks help link genetic activity with mental activity. More research and studies will be done to determine why the breaks occur. What the researchers did find though, is that mice that were genetically engineered (having the protein produced by Alzheimer's patients) would generate these same double strand breaks more than how much a healthy brain would. Alzheimer's patients, along with the mice that produced the human amyloid beta protein often had seizures. To block this abnormal brain activity, the researchers used an anti-epileptic drug levetiracetam on the mice resulting in fewer DNA breaks. Since this was discovered, Mucke believes that this drug has the chance of preventing excess double strand breaks allowing for the progress of the disease to slow down or stop in humans with early stages of Alzheimer's. Another discovery that these researchers made was that when the mice lacked a protein known as tau, the amyloid beta protein no longer caused DNA breaks. Therefore with the absence of tau, the amyloid beta doesn't create harmful effects. Further studies need to be completed in order to see if the tau can be controlled in Alzheimer's patients. They are also in the process of testing the anti-epileptic drug in order to see if a mass production can be made and given to help patients with this disease.


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