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A Fine Balance for Dementia Drugs

The transparent nature of the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans makes it easy for scientists to study its cells. Credit: HoPo/Wikimedia Commons

The transparent nature of the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans makes it easy for scientists to study its cells. Credit: HoPo/Wikimedia Commons

By Yee Lian Chew & Hannah Nicholas

Since too much or too little of a key protein expressed in the brain can accelerate brain ageing, drugs developed to regulate its levels face a fine balancing act.

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Diseases of the ageing brain, such as Alzheimer's disease, are becoming increasingly common but the causes of these conditions are relatively unknown. We have studied brain ageing in a small transparent roundworm, and found that accelerated ageing stemmed from either too low or too high levels of a protein called tau. We think that a similar thing may be happening in people, so our findings could improve our understanding of what causes Alzheimer's disease.

Dementia is one of the most important diseases of the ageing brain, with one in four Australians above the age of 85 developing some form of dementia. This disease is characterised by progressive impairment of brain function, such as memory loss, confusion, changes in personality and the inability to perform everyday tasks.

As the human brain gets older it gradually begins to accumulate small physical changes that correlate with a loss of brain function. These changes are also observed in other animals. Our research has used the small nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans as a model to study how the brain ages.

The Tau Gene Regulates Brain Ageing and Overall Lifespan

In humans, the most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. In this and similar dementias, a protein that is encoded by the tau gene appears to be strongly involved in disease progression. In fact, in the brains of...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.