Mayo Clinic spies enzyme that destroys brain-clogging Alzheimer's protein

Mayo Clinic scientists believe they've found an enzyme that could defeat Alzheimer's disease by destroying the brain-clogging protein that is a hallmark of the condition as it advances.

They've zeroed in on BACE2, which appeared to chop the notorious beta amyloid into smaller sections. This effectively destroys the protein, and at a rate much better than other tested enzymes, according to the research. It cuts into APP, a larger protein of which beta amyloid is a part, right into the middle of the beta amyloid section, preventing its production.

If BACE2 sounds familiar, it's because there is also a BACE1 enzyme, which the researchers note places the first cut into APP to make beta amyloid in the first place. Drug developers including Merck ($MRK) are actively eyeing BACE1 as an Alzheimer's drug target.

Considering the struggles drug companies are experiencing to get past Phase III with a successful Alzheimer's drug, this preclinical research finding could be one to watch. It will be years before scientists figure out how they want to target BACE2 in the fight against Alzheimer's, but in the meantime, it has certainly opened some doors. Researchers, for example, believe that because of its properties, blocking BACE2 production might actually boost the risk of Alzheimer's. This could happen, they believe, with drugs such as HIV treatments, which block enzymes similar to BACE2. Further studies are planned--funded by the NIH--to see whether blocking BACE2 in mice boosts the Alzheimer's risk.

The online journal Molecular Neurodegeneration has more details on the finding.

- read the release
- here's the journal abstract