Are stressed-out brain cells the root cause of neurodegenerative disease?

February 14, 2024

Illustration of a brain cell with blue squiggles around a purple circleMany neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, are characterized by the accumulation of protein clumps, or aggregates, in the brain, which has led scientists to assume that the protein tangles kill brain cells. The search for treatments that break up and remove these tangled proteins has had little success, however.

But a new discovery by University of California, Berkeley, researchers suggests that the accumulation of aggregated proteins isn't what kills brain cells. Rather, it's the body's failure to turn off these cells' stress response.

In a study published online Jan. 31 in the journal Nature, the researchers reported that delivering a drug that forces the stress response to shut down saves cells that mimic a type of neurodegenerative disease known as early-onset dementia.

According to lead researcher Michael Rapé, the finding could offer clinicians another option for treatment for some neurodegenerative diseases, at least for those caused by mutations in the protein that switches off the cellular stress response. These include inherited diseases that lead to ataxia, or loss of muscle control, and early-onset dementia.

Berkeley News