Researchers planted genes into the brains of mice with Alzheimer’s, which appeared to reduce the growth of damaging protein deposits called amyloid plaques.
In human patients, these plaques build up in the brain, leading to a loss of neurons and causing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
The US scientists used a virus to carry a gene into the mice which makes a natural plaque-clearing enzyme, neprilysin. The gene transfer was concentrated in the hippocampus and frontal cortex, both areas of the brain where plaque formation occurs in humans.
Plaques near the sites where the gene-carrying virus was injected were later found to be smaller and more compact than in other brain regions.
In some cases the plaque “load” was reduced to less than half that found in comparable untreated areas.
There is also evidence that neuronal cell damage was reduced after the gene transfer.
Dr Fred Gage, from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, in La Jolla, California, who led the research team, said: “If we find a way to shift the balance between amyloid production, clearance and degradation, I believe we can find a way to interfere with the processes involved in Alzheimer’s disease.”
The findings were reported yesterday in the latest issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.