According to UT Southwestern, USA, new discoveries focusing on neurodegenerative disorders predict ability to forecast dementia from a single molecule.
By recently identifying the molecular start of Alzheimer’s disease, researchers have used this finding to determine that it should be possible to forecast which type of dementia will develop in an individual over time – which could lead to a form of personalised medicine for neurodegenerative disorders.
Treating neurodegenerative disorders
Single toxic tau proteins that stick together and spread degeneration across the brains of dementia patients have different shapes, according to UT Southwestern. The folds of these molecules hold information that could help diagnose, and potentially even treat, neurodegeneration in its earliest stages.
The aim is to utilise the discoveries of the tau protein to develop clinical diagnostic tools.
Dr. Marc Diamond, director of UT Southwestern’s Center for Alzheimer’s and neurodegenerative diseases, explains: “Our expanded understanding of the tau protein structure changes how we think about detecting and treating Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.”
“The next step is to translate this knowledge into simple clinical tests that doctors will use to diagnose and eventually stop the neurodegeneration process at its earliest stages.”
What do you know about the molecule?
Harmful single tau molecules take different shapes that each correlate to a distinct type of larger assembly that will form and self-replicate across the brain.
Research has already established that the structure of larger tau assemblies determines which type of dementia will occur – such as the regions of the brain that can be affected and how quickly the disease will spread. However, it was unknown what specified these larger structures.
The new research reveals how a single tau molecule that changes shape at the beginning of the disease process contains the information that determines the configuration of the larger, toxic assemblies. Therefore, suggesting that characterisation of the conformation of single tau molecules could predict what emerging disease is happening – Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia.
Converting findings into clinical tests
Diamond’s team is attempting to translate these findings into clinical tests that examine a patient’s blood or spinal fluid to detect the first biological signs of the abnormal tau, before the symptoms of memory loss and cognitive decline become apparent.
Focusing further on neurodegenerative disorders, the research team is also working to develop treatments to stabilise shape-shifting tau molecules, looking at how to prevent them from assembling, or promote their clearance from the brain.