Marker points to new approach to treating Alzheimer's

A new marker for Alzheimer's could point the way to a more effective method to treat the memory-wasting illness. Investigators at the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease in San Francisco have zeroed in on a neurotransmitter called EphB2, which is depleted in patients. The researchers found when they cut the level of EphB2 in mice, they quickly developed the kind of memory problems that plague patients. And when they pushed levels back up, the symptoms disappeared.

Researchers have been concentrating heavily on the toxic protein amyloid, which builds up in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. But the scientists at Gladstone found that amyloid binds to the neurotransmitter, which may help explain the physiological process involved in disease progression.

"We think that blocking amyloid proteins from binding to EphB2, and enhancing EphB2 levels or functions with drugs might be of benefit in Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Lennart Mucke, who led the study. But it represents one step down a long scientific trail.

"This research adds a piece to the Alzheimer's puzzle and provides new leads for researchers," said Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, "It suggests a way to keep nerve cells in the brain communicating, which is vital for thinking and memory."

- here's the story from the BBC