Discovery of Nerve-Cell-Protective Molecular Target May Lead to Improved Memory and Cognitive Function in Alzheimer’s Patients

As Alzheimer's disease progresses, it kills brain cells mainly in the hippocampus and cortex, leading to impairments in "neuroplasticity," the mechanism that affects learning, memory, and thinking. Targeting these areas of the brain, scientists hope to stop or slow the decline in brain plasticity, providing a novel way to treat Alzheimer's. Ground-breaking new research has discovered a new way to preserve the flexibility and resilience of the brain. The study, led by Tel Aviv University's (TAU’s) Professor Illana Gozes and published online on September 2, 2014 in Molecular Psychiatry, reveals a nerve-cell-protective molecular target that is essential for brain plasticity. According to Professor Gozes, "This discovery offers the world a new target for drug design and an understanding of mechanisms of cognitive enhancement." Professor Gozes is the incumbent of the Lily and Avraham Gildor Chair for the Investigation of Growth Factors and Director of the Adams Super Center for Brain Studies at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine and a member of TAU's Sagol School of Neuroscience. Also contributing to the study were Dr. Saar Oz, Oxana Kapitansky, Yanina Ivashco-Pachima, Anna Malishkevich, Dr. Joel Hirsch, Dr. Rina Rosin-Arbersfeld, and their students, all from TAU. TAU staff scientists Dr. Eliezer Gildai and Dr. Leonid Mittelman provided the state-of-the-art molecular cloning and cellular protein imaging necessary for the study. The new finding is based on Professor Gozes' earlier discovery of NAP, a snippet of a protein essential for brain formation (activity-dependent neuroprotective protein [ADNP]). As a result of this discovery, a drug candidate that showed efficacy in mild cognitive impairment patients, a precursor to Alzheimer's disease, is being developed.
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