Alzheimer’s breakthrough raises hopes of drug to reverse symptoms

The Times, Science, 16 April 2015

Alzheimer’s attacks important immune cells in the brain, according to scientists, who say the discovery could be an important breakthrough in reversing the disease.

A study in mice found the disease consumed an important nutrient called arginine and that blocking that process prevented memory loss.

The research, carried out by Duke University, North Carolina, and published in The Journal of Neuroscience, may lead to a new treatment for Alzheimer’s.

“If indeed arginine consumption is so important to the disease process, maybe we could block it and reverse the disease,” said Carol Colton, the senior author of the report, who is professor of neurology at the Duke University School of Medicine.

The analysts studied mice specially bred so that their immune systems were just like a human’s. They discovered that a component of the brain’s immune system called microglia began to divide and change early on in the disease.

The research also showed a dampening of immune cells and a surge of anti-immune cells. Where the scientists were able to block the impact on the amino acid arginine with a drug called difluoromethylornithine (DFMO), the mice performed better in memory tests. The researchers are now looking at whether DFMO can be used to treat patients before the onset of the disease.

“We see this study opening the doors to thinking about Alzheimer’s in a completely different way,” Professor Colton said.

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