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New hope for effective treatment of Alzheimer’s disease

  • Date

    Mon 5 Nov 18

Professor Leo Schalkwyk

Pioneering research into the mechanisms controlling gene activity in the brain could hold the key to understanding Alzheimer’s disease and may help identify effective treatments in the future.

An international research team, led by scientists at the University of Essex and the University of Exeter, has uncovered a link between the way genes are packaged and Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia, which affects 850,000 people in the UK alone. This is set to rise to over 1 million people by 2025.
Professor Leonard Schalkwyk, from our School of Biological Sciences, said: “Alzheimer’s affects millions of lives and has been extensively studied but we still haven’t got to the bottom of why and how it happens.

“This is our second large-scale study to find differences in how genes are expressed in Alzheimer’s disease compared to an unaffected brain. This is helping to tie different strands of our understanding of the disease together.”

The study investigated histone acetylation in brain tissue from deceased patients, with and without Alzheimer’s. Histones are proteins, found in the nucleus of cells, which act as spools around which DNA winds itself to form a more compact package.

Professor Jonathan Mill, of the University of Exeter Medical School, co-led the study. He said: “Our study provides compelling evidence for widespread changes in histone acetylation in Alzheimer’s disease. Although more work is needed to explore whether altered histone acetylation is a cause or a result of the condition, it is interesting that drugs modifying histone acetylation are among the most promising new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.”

This research is the first genome-wide study to investigate histone acetylation in Alzheimer’s disease, and provides a framework for studying histone modification in other diseases affecting the brain. The study is published in Nature Neuroscience and was co-funded by the US National Institutes of Health, the European Union and the Medical Research Council.