Targeting brain protein could halt progression of Alzheimer's

A protein that stimulates the brain to wake up could hold the key to preventative Alzheimer's treatments, an animal study suggests.

Alzheimer's: brain cell showing signs of disease (Photo: Science Photo Library)

A mouse-model study conducted by US researchers suggests that targeting orexin, a neurotransmitter that helps rouse the brain from sleep, could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease in patients who have problems sleeping.

Sleep loss is known to contribute to the growth of brain plaques, early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

They accumulate in the brain ahead of the onset of the more severe symptoms, such as memory loss. Scientists hope that by slowing or stopping this build-up, they can put a halt on the disease.

In the latest study, published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, researchers bred genetically-modified mice lacking the gene for producing orexin with those predisposed to developing brain plaques.

Brain plaques halved

The offspring slept for longer and developed only half as many brain plaques as their predisposed parents who had the orexin protein, suggesting that higher levels of the neurotransmitter contribute to producing more brain plaques.

When the scientists reversed the experiment, and looked at mice with artificially increased orexin levels, the mice stayed awake longer and developed more Alzheimer's-like plaques.

Lead author Dr David Holtzman said: ‘This indicates we should be looking hard at orexin as a potential target for preventing Alzheimer’s disease.

‘Blocking orexin to increase sleep in patients with sleep abnormalities, or perhaps even to improve sleep efficiency in healthy people, may be a way to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's. This is important to explore further.’

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins


Already registered?

Sign in

Just published

GMC sign

Gaps in GMC referral and exam pass rates for ethnic minority doctors falling, says GMC

Gaps in fitness to practise referrals and exam pass rates between doctors from white...

Pharmacy shelves

Menopause prescribing advice updated as HRT shortage continues

The British Menopause Society has recommended alternative options for prescribers...

GP sign

Using IIF cash to top up staff pay risks major gap in practice finances, warn accountants

GP practices could face a major cash shortfall in 2024/25 if they use investment...

Paxlovid – one of the treatments available for COVID-19

GPs could play bigger role in prescribing COVID-19 treatments from end of June

GPs could play a greater role in prescribing COVID-19 treatments to patients at risk...

Physiotherapist works with patient

Is the government right to claim its 26,000 additional roles target has been met?

Prime minister Rishi Sunak claimed last month that the government had met its manifesto...

Statement of fitness for work

GP training: Tips for completing FIT notes

GP trainer Dr Pipin Singh provides advice for trainees on how to complete fit notes,...