London: In what is being hailed as a major breakthrough, scientists claim to have unravelled the precise function of genes which are known to make people more at risk of developing Alzheimer`s disease.
A team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology says that its findings may soon pave the way for early detection of the crippling brain disease and also of potential new treatments for the most common form of dementia.
There is no cure or effective treatment for Alzheimer`s and current drugs help people manage some of their symptoms.
In their research, the scientists used yeast to unravel how the genes known to affect the risk of Alzheimer`s work on cells in the brain. They show for the first time that the risk genes affect a hallmark protein in Alzheimer`s called amyloid.
The research discovered that amyloid was disrupting a vital process in yeast called endocytosis, which transports important molecules into and around cells. It found a number of the genes, including one called Picalm, could influence amyloid`s ability to disrupt endocytosis.
It provides a previously unknown link between the genes and the amyloid protein, and sets a new direction for treatment research, say the scientists who worked on the role of the Alzheimer`s risk genes not only in yeast, but also in more complex models using worms and rat brain cells.
Prof Julie Williams of Cardiff University, chief scientific adviser to Alzheimer`s Research UK, has welcomed the findings published in the `Science` journal.
"In 2009 we discovered that the gene Picalm affected the risk of developing Alzheimer`s disease. We`ve since identified a further three genes which, together with Picalm, show for the first time that the process of endocytosis may play an important role in Alzheimer`s.
"This study now brings the pieces of the puzzle together and shows that Picalm influences the damaging effects of amyloid. Our genetic discoveries are now pinpointing new disease mechanisms which can lead to the development of new treatments. This is enormously exciting," Williams was quoted by the `Daily Express` as saying.
Dr Marie Janson from Alzheimer`s Research UK, added: "We are very excited by these promising results."