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Lower mitochondria gene activity in brains with Alzheimer's disease

14 November 2016

By Annabel Slater

Appeared in BioNews 877

Brain tissue from Alzheimer's disease patients shows reduced expression of nuclear genes coding for mitochondrial function, according to researchers.

They say that their findings show some of the earliest cellular changes in the development of Alzheimer's disease, and could be used to aid diagnosis as well as increasing understanding of the disease.

'Age-related neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer's, progress over a long period of time before they become clinically apparent,' said Dr Diego Mastroeni of Arizona State University, one of the authors of the study. 'Findings from our laboratory have uncovered early expression changes in nuclear-encoded, but not mitochondrial-encoded, mRNAs occurring in one's early 30s, giving us a glimpse into what we suspect are some of the earliest cellular changes in the progression of Alzheimer's disease.'

Researchers examined gene expression in tissue samples from the hippocampus, the brain structure responsible for memory, which is severely affected by Alzheimer's disease. They compared samples from 44 normal brains of people aged 29–99 years, ten with mild cognitive impairment (an intermediate stage between normal ageing and dementia) and 18 with Alzheimer's disease.

They found different levels of expression in genes in the nucleus that are needed to generate energy from mitochondria. Hippocampal tissue from Alzheimer's disease and normally ageing brains showed substantially lower expression of these genes.

However, tissue from brains with mild cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to Alzheimer's disease, showed higher expression of the genes. The researchers suggest this may be a compensation against the early development of the disease.

Earlier studies had shown the accumulation of amyloid beta protein in neurons, a hallmark feature of Alzheimer's disease, directly interfere with mitochondrial function.

'Our work on mitochondria offers the promise of a reliable marker appearing earlier in the course of the disease – one which more closely correlates with the degree of dementia than the current diagnostic of plaques and tangles,' said Professor Paul Coleman of Arizona State University, one of the authors of the study.

The researchers suggest that restoring the function of these genes could potentially slow development of Alzheimer's disease, but that much more research is needed.

The study was published in Alzheimer's and Dementia.


14 August 2017 - by Sarah Gregory 
After the annual Alzheimer's Association International Conference for scientific researchers was held in London this summer, and the subsequent flurry of media interest, the UK dementia charity Alzheimer's Society announced an event for the public to discuss the much asked question: is dementia inherited?...
20 March 2017 - by Dr Julia Hill 
Two common variants of TMEM106B and progranulin (GRN) genes have been discovered to accelerate normal brain ageing...

07 November 2016 - by Helen Robertson 
Children with autism spectrum disorder have twice as many harmful mutations in their mitochondrial DNA as their siblings, a study has found...
17 October 2016 - by Annabel Slater 
A new gene therapy has slowed the progress of early Alzheimer's disease in mice...
11 July 2016 - by Sarah Gregory 
Researchers looking at multiple genes have developed risk scores that could identify those most likely to develop Alzheimer's disease in later life...
26 August 2014 - by Claire Downes 
Researchers have identified a connection between DNA methylation and Alzheimer's disease, gaining a further understanding into the underlying causes of this neurodegenerative condition....
08 April 2013 - by Dr Linda Wijlaars 
Three new genetic markers for Alzheimer's disease have been identified, pointing to a less well-known mechanism to explain how the disease develops...

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Published by the Progress Educational Trust


Public Conference
8 December 2017

Speakers include

Professor Azim Surani

Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge

Sally Cheshire

Professor Guido Pennings

Katherine Littler

Professor Allan Pacey

Dr Sue Avery

Professor Richard Anderson

Dr Elizabeth Garner

Dr Andy Greenfield

Dr Anna Smajdor

Dr Henry Malter

Vivienne Parry

Dr Helen O'Neill

Dr César Palacios-González

Philippa Taylor

Fiona Fox

Sarah Norcross

Sandy Starr


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