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Untangling Alzheimer's

At this moment, an estimated 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease. And by 2050, the Alzheimer's Association estimates between 11 and 16 million people will have the disease unless a cure or prevention is found.

Scientists studying Alzheimer's have identified several proteins that form tangles and knots in the brain; these abnormalities disrupt brain functioning. At UK, a team of scientists led by Guoying Bing, professor of anatomy and neurobiology, has gained important new knowledge about these tangles, findings that were published in a recent issue of Nature. The research group centered its work on the role of Pin1, a protein that acts on other proteins in the brain.

"This study may have found an important piece of the puzzle in Alzheimer's disease in that Pin1 may prevent proteins from becoming tangled—therefore, increasing Pin1 function in the brain may be an effective way to treat Alzheimer's," Bing says.

The research team found a relationship between the amount of Pin1 and both the susceptibility of neurons to damage and the amount of protein tangles. They also found that mice with an artificial disruption of Pin1 develop a disease that resembles Alzheimer's, which means that Pin1 appears to have a role in preventing and protecting the brain from degeneration.

The study also suggests that a loss of Pin1 could contribute to other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Huntington's.