Uncovering the causes of Alzheimer’s disease


Congratulations to Centenary’s Associate Professor Anthony Don, who is uncovering the causes of Alzheimer’s disease- the second leading cause of death in Australia

It is estimated that 425,416 Australians are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia is the second leading cause of death of Australians, and the leading cause of death for women in this country. With our ageing population, Alzheimer’s, which is the most common form of dementia, has been identified as a national health priority. There is currently no known cure or effective treatment to halt this devastating disease.

At Centenary Institute, Associate Professor Anthony Don and research fellow Dr Tim Couttas are working towards uncovering the causes and mechanisms of this disease, with his most recent work, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Work towards better understanding Alzheimer’s will lead to preventing, treating and possibly curing this disease.

Scientists looked at hippocampus tissue from people aged 65 and older, who were cognitively normal at the time of death. The hippocampus is a structure in the brain that is very heavily affected in Alzheimer’s disease and is required for memory consolidation.

Scientists wanted to identify how genetic variants in the APOE gene, which is the major risk gene for Alzheimer’s, affects lipid levels in the brains of elderly, cognitively normal people. It wasn’t the APOE gene that provided the most valuable clues in the end, but scientists did find that certain lipids increase with age in the male hippocampus, and one very important lipid decreases with age in females. This could provide clues as to why the female brain is more susceptible to this disease.

“The lipid that goes down with ageing in female brains is the one I am most interested in. It is called S1P and we have previously shown that S1P is lost from affected brain regions early in the development of Alzheimer’s disease (females are more susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease). S1P is important for protecting the brain, including protecting the electrical insulation around nerve cells called myelin. I suspect the loss of S1P with ageing in females might sensitize to developing Alzheimer’s disease. Its loss may be related to loss of estrogen with ageing,” says Associate Professor Don.

This ongoing work provides important pieces to the larger jigsaw of understanding this disease. Scientists around the globe are working hard to be able to provide some hope for patients and loved ones affected by this terrible, debilitating and ultimately deadly disease.

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