The discovery could lead to the development of drugs that slow the progression of the disease and prevent memory loss.
A discovery in understanding Alzheimer's disease has revealed changes to blood vessels in the brain, according to studies funded by the British Heart Foundation, potentially presenting a path for developing new drugs to help fight the disease.
Alzheimer's disease has long been thought to be a brain disease in which the protein Amyloid-beta (Aβ) accumulates and forms plaques. However, there is mounting evidence that the brain's blood supply is also compromised.
A smaller version of the protein known as Amyloid-1-40 (Aβ 1-40) builds up in the walls of small arteries and reduces blood flow to the brain, according to researchers at the University of Manchester.
Small pial arteries run along the surface of the brain, controlling the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. The brain can't receive sufficient nutrition if these arteries narrow for too long, which is one of the causes of memory loss in people with the disease.
When the researchers examined the pial arteries of older mice with Alzheimer's disease who produced too much Aβ 1-40, they discovered that they were narrower than those of healthy mice. Aβ 1-40 switching off protein known as BK, which, when working normally, sends signals that cause arteries to widen, was discovered to be the cause of the narrowing.
The researchers will now investigate which part of Aβ 1-40 inhibits the BK protein so that drugs to prevent this can be developed and tested.
Dr. Adam Greenstein, a clinical senior lecturer in cardiovascular sciences at the University of Manchester, described the situation as follows: "Over 500 drugs have been tested in the hopes of finding a cure for Alzheimer's disease. They've all gone after the brain's nerves, and none of them has been successful. We've opened up new avenues of research to find a treatment for Alzheimer's disease by demonstrating how the disease affects small blood vessels."
Professor Metin Avkiran, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, concluded: “This research is an important step forward in our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. More than half a million people in the UK are living with the condition, and that number is set to rise as our population gets older.”
“These findings could lead to a desperately needed treatment for this devastating condition,” he added.
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