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New Clue To Alzheimer's

Scientists have found another potential clue to understanding what goes wrong in the brain to cause Alzheimer's disease, suggesting a possible new approach to treatment.

Researchers focused on a crucial enzyme in brain cells and a protein that controls its activity. The findings suggest that if brain cells produce an abnormal, stunted version of this protein, the enzyme can run amok, leading to death of brain cells. That could play a role in causing Alzheimer's.

Scientists found the shortened protein in the autopsied brains of Alzheimer patients. In test-tube studies, the stunted version made the enzyme overactive, killing rat brain cells.

The work could help explain why certain cells in Alzheimer brains typically contain abnormal protein tangles. These tangles, along with protein deposits called plaques, are hallmarks of the disease. Scientists are trying to figure out what roles the tangles and the plaques each play in causing Alzheimer's.

The new work is reported in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature by a team including Li-Huei Tsai, an associate pathology professor at Harvard Medical School and a researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

She said scientists might be able to develop new treatments if they can figure out how to block production of the stunted protein or keep the enzyme under control.