Study identifies brain protein that could put the brakes on Alzheimer’s

University of California, Irvine biologists blazing new approaches to studying Alzheimer’s disease have made a major finding on combating inflammation linked to the disease. The School of Biological Sciences researchers’ discovery about the role of a protein called TOM-1 heralds a shift toward examining the molecular underpinnings of Alzheimer’s processes.

Their study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Scientists have known for a long time that inflammation is a driver of Alzheimer’s disease, but inflammation is complex and involves many factors,” said School of Biological Sciences Dean Frank LaFerla, Ph.D., whose laboratory conducted the research. “That’s why we decided to look at TOM-1.

The protein helps to regulate a key component of the inflammatory response. “We were interested in TOM-1 because its levels are low in the Alzheimer’s brain and in the brains of Alzheimer’s rodent models,” said Alessandra Martini, Ph.D., the paper’s first author and a postdoctoral researcher who worked with LaFerla. “However, its specific role in the disease has largely been unexplored.”

The scientists discovered that reducing the amount of TOM-1 in Alzheimer’s rodent models increased pathology, which included increased inflammation, and exacerbated cognitive problems associated with the disease. Restoring TOM-1 levels reversed those effects.

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