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Nov 30, 2015 07:29 AM EST

Alzheimer's cure possible due to synapse discovery

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A team of researchers belonging to UNSW Australia scientists has discovered that the links between brain cells are obliterated during the onset of Alzheimer's disease, leading the way for a number of cures for the disease on a hypothetical level, I4U reports.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

The study's first author is Dr Iryna Leshchyns'ka of the UNSW School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences. The team includes researchers from Neuroscience Research Australia and the Dementia Research Unit of the UNSW School of Medical Sciences.

"One of the first signs of Alzheimer's disease is the loss of synapses - the structures that connect neurons in the brain," says study leader, Dr Vladimir Sytnyk, of the UNSW School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences.

"Synapses are required for all brain functions, and particularly for learning and forming memories. In Alzheimer's disease, this loss of synapses occurs very early on, when people still only have mild cognitive impairment, and long before the nerve cells themselves die.

"We have identified a new molecular mechanism which directly contributes to this synapse loss - a discovery we hope could eventually lead to earlier diagnosis of the disease and new treatments." 

The researchers studied the protein termed neural cell adhesion molecule 2 (NCAM2), which is said to help in the formation of synapses. It promotes the various connections in the brain.

Post-mortem brain samples from people with Alzheimer's have shown that levels of NCAM2 were low in the hippocampus.

"Our research shows the loss of synapses is linked to the loss of NCAM2 as a result of the toxic effects of beta-amyloid," says Dr Sytnyk. "It opens up a new avenue for research on possible treatments that can prevent the destruction of NCAM2 in the brain."

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