Boosting Garbage Disposal in Brain Cells

The processes of cellular housekeeping appear to be important in aging, and here is an example of what can be achieved by selectively boosting their operation: "Gene therapy that boosts the ability of brain cells to gobble up toxic proteins prevents development of Alzheimer's disease in mice that are predestined to develop it ... the treatment - which is given just once - could potentially do the same in people at the beginning stages of the disease. ... giving brain cells extra parkin genes promotes efficient and effective removal of amyloid particles believed to be destroying the neurons from the inside. This revved up protein disposal process prevents the cells from dying and spewing amyloid proteins into the brain, where they stick together and clump into plaque. ... Many neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by a toxic build-up of one protein or another, and this approach is designed to prevent that process early-on. ... providing brain cells with about 50 percent more parkin protein activates two parallel garbage-removal processes within the brain. One is ubiquitination, in which errant proteins are targeted for destruction and recycling within the cell. The other process is autophagy, in which membranes form around damaged mitochondria (the cell's power plants) and these membranes fuse with lysosomes that destroys the contents. This is particularly important [because] damaged mitochondria have been found to clog the insides of neurons affected by Alzheimer's disease, and the extra parkin seems to help clear them. That allows the cells to produce new and healthy mitochondria. ... With a normal amount of parkin, the cells are overwhelmed and cannot remove molecular debris. Extra parkin cleans everything." This should have much wider application, possibly even for the slowing of aging, given the broad role of autophagy; it's the sort of therapy that everyone would want done, regardless of their present state of health.



This seems like one of the most promising developments so far!
Although I think at first I would rather just take the protein as a drug, if possible, instead of gene therapy. I wonder if even a single round of garbage collection could make a significant difference.

Posted by: Will Nelson at March 9th, 2011 10:31 AM

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