Alzheimer's Symptoms May Arise From Mutant Genes

It's a possible new dimension to the disease, researchers say

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TUESDAY, Sept. 19, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists may have found a new cause of Alzheimer's disease symptoms.

Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and colleagues have been studying genes known as "presenilins," known to be mutated in people with an inherited form of Alzheimer's disease.

Until now, presenilins have been primarily known for their role in forming the plaques that riddle the brains of Alzheimer's patients. But this new study, published in the Sept. 8 issue of Cell, found that presenilins may also control the balance of calcium within cells.

Calcium serves as a signaling molecule and affects functions such as learning and memory. Mutant forms of presenilin lose their ability to control calcium balance, and cells become "overloaded" with calcium.

More research is needed to determine whether the disruption of calcium balance actually causes Alzheimer's disease symptoms, but this study raises the possibility of new treatments for people with Alzheimer's disease, the research team said.

Since the heightened calcium signal was reversed in mutant cells when the scientists restored normal presenilin, drugs targeted at restoring normal calcium levels might be useful for treating Alzheimer's disease, the Texas team added.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about Alzheimer's disease.

SOURCE: Cell Press, news release, Sept. 7, 2006

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