Alzheimer’s breakthrough as experts find clue as to how memory-robbing disease starts and say hallmark mutations may starve brain of crucial energy
Australian researchers believe their discovery — if proven true in human trials — may ‘enormously benefit our ageing population’.
Genes thought to raise the risk of the condition disrupt the way brain cells produce energy and could contribute to the deterioration of the brain, their study suggests.
University of Adelaide academics examined how genetic mutations linked to early-onset Alzheimer’s affected zebrafish.
Brain cells of the fish with the telltale DNA changes used less oxygen, meaning their brains were unable to produce enough energy to function correctly.
Similar data on mice backed-up their theory.
Lead researcher Dr Karissa Barthelson said the team are confident they have found a ‘fundamental, early driver of Alzheimer’s in humans’.
‘Energy production is the most fundamentally important cellular activity supporting all other functions, particularly in highly active organs such as brains,’ she said.
‘If we can understand what is going wrong with oxygen use and energy production, we may see ways of stopping the disease before it starts.’
She added: ‘That would enormously benefit our ageing population.’
Dr Barthelson and colleagues published their findings in the journal Disease Models and Mechanisms.
Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease, in which the build-up of abnormal proteins causes nerve cells to die.
This disrupts the transmitters that carry messages, and causes the brain to shrink.