"There basically are two prongs and we need to deal with both," said lead researcher Karen Ashe, a University of Minnesota neurologist. "What we're showing is that there are neurons which are affected (by Alzheimer's) but not dead."
New research shows a mutant protein named tau is poisoning brain cells, and that blocking its production may allow some of those sick neurons to recover. It worked in demented mice who, to the scientists' surprise, fairly rapidly regained memory.
There are no drugs yet to block tau, and most of the recent search for Alzheimer's treatments has focused instead on another protein, called beta-amyloid.
But Thursday's study, published in the journal Science, is sure to refocus attention on finding ways to attack this second culprit, too.