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)
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

Follow Us:

Just published

Whitehall street sign

NHS officials doubled in two years as GP workforce dropped

Staff employed by NHS England and the DHSC doubled in two years from the start of...

Child coughing

NICE traffic light tool that helps GPs spot seriously ill under-5s 'unreliable'

NICE's 'traffic light' system - intended to help GPs identify risk of serious illness...

Pregnant woman receives COVID-19 vaccine

COVID-19 vaccine uptake in pregnant women rising but stark inequality remains

More than half of pregnant women are now double vaccinated against COVID-19 as uptake...

Vaccination tracker

UK COVID-19 vaccination programme tracker

GPs across the UK have led the largest-ever NHS vaccination programme in response...

GMC sign

Overseas-graduate GPs fare worse in medical tribunals due to lack of legal help

UK GPs who graduated overseas face worse outcomes in GMC cases because they are far...

Woman using HRT patch

Practical advice for GPs on prescribing HRT

GP menopause specialists Dr Louise Newson and Dr Olivia Jones provides an overview...