UCSD targets dendritic spines in promising Alzheimer's approach

Current Alzheimer’s treatments control symptoms without tackling the underlying disease or delaying its progression. Scientists from the University of California, San Diego have created molecules that may be able to protect neuronal function in people with neurodegenerative disease, a potential new take on Alzheimer's disease.

The molecules, benzothiazole amphiphiles, affect the density of dendritic spines, which are thorn-like structures on neurons that receive incoming signals.

"Problems with learning and memory in many neurodegenerative and neurodevelopment disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and certain forms of autism or mental retardation involve either loss or misregulation of dendritic spines," said Jerry Yang, a professor of chemistry, in a statement.

The team treated neurons from a brain region critical for forming and recalling memories with the compounds and found that they increased the density of the spines on those neurons. They also prevented the loss of spines that happens when amyloid-beta is present. The protein accumulates in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease and is a main target for drug development. The time is ripe for a new tack to counter amyloid-beta, with multiple Alzheimer’s drugs failing in the last couple of years and companies such as Eli Lilly ($LLY) and tandem Roche ($RHHBY) and Biogen ($BIIB) scrambling to revive them.

Previous research has shown that dendritic spine density changes with time, and that increased density is associated with improved memory and learning, the team said in the statement. Benzothiazole amphiphiles show potential not only in heading off spine loss in people with neurodegenerative disease, but also in improving cognition in those with neurodevelopment disorders.

- here's the statement

- and here's the study abstract