Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine have designed an experimental drug that reversed key symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in a mouse model of the disease. The drug works by reinvigorating a cellular cleaning mechanism that gets rid of unwanted proteins by digesting and recycling them. The study was published online April 22, 2021 in Cell. The article is titled “Chaperone-Mediated Autophagy Prevents Collapse of the Neuronal Metastable Proteome” (https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(21)00379-2?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS0092867421003792%3Fshowall%3Dtrue). “Discoveries in mice don’t always translate to humans, especially in Alzheimer’s disease,” said study Co-Leader Ana Maria Cuervo (photo) (https://einsteinmed.org/faculty/8784/ana-maria-cuervo/) MD, PhD, the Robert and Renée Belfer Chair for the Study of Neurodegenerative Diseases, Professor of Developmental and Molecular Biology, and Co-Director of the Institute for Aging Research at Einstein. “But we were encouraged to find in our study that the drop-off in cellular cleaning that contributes to Alzheimer’s in mice also occurs in people with the disease, suggesting that our drug may also work in humans.” In the 1990s, Dr. Cuervo discovered the existence of this cell-cleaning process, known as chaperone-mediated autophagy (CMA) and she has published 200 papers on its role in health and disease. CMA becomes less efficient as people age, increasing the risk that unwanted proteins will accumulate into insoluble clumps that damage cells. In fact, Alzheimer’s and all other neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by the presence of toxic protein aggregates in patients’ brains. The Cell paper reveals a dynamic interplay between CMA and Alzheimer’s disease, with loss of CMA in neurons contributing to Alzheimer’s and vice versa. The findings suggest that drugs for revving up CMA may offer hope for treating neurodegenerative diseases.
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