Science Bites seeks to compile the latest scientific research updates in bite-sized forms.

1. New blood test enables pain-free detection of early stage Alzheimer’s

Detection of Alzheimer’s disease has traditionally involved painful needle procedures which may be uncomfortable for the patient. Recently, a blood test has been discovered by Japanese researchers, which involves obtaining only small amounts of blood from the patient that helps minimise fear and pain for the patient.

Early intervention is essential for Alzheimer’s disease, which is a progressive form of dementia characterised by impairment in memory and judgement skills. The blood test involves analysing the sample for phosphorylated tau, which is a protein found in elevated concentrations in the cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain. Conventionally, needles have to be used to obtain samples of the cerebrospinal fluid, which can be painful and undesirable for patients. In the new procedure, an antibody is used to tag the tau protein, which enables protein detection in very small amounts of blood (up to 0.2 ml).

The blood test is now being considered as a screening tool, especially for individuals over the age of 60 as their risk of dementia is considerably higher. The Japanese research team trialled the test on 20 patients from 60 to 89 years old, and the results revealed that the blood test had an “intermediate degree of accuracy.”

2. Enzyme inhibition may lead to reduced memory impairment in Alzheimer’s patients

Treating Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages is essential to prevent deleterious neurological impairment and severe loss of motor coordination.
Treating Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages is essential to prevent deleterious neurological impairment and severe loss of motor coordination.

Researchers from MIT have demonstrated that disrupting the enzyme, HDAC2, may lead to reduced loss of memory in Alzheimer’s patients. HDAC2 is an enzyme implicated in blockage of genes that are responsible for the generation of new memories and therefore blocking this enzyme, may allow these genes to be expressed normally.

Previous research attempting to block this enzyme have been unsuccessful, as they amplified the deleterious side effects that resulted from blocking vital functions of another related enzyme named HDAC-1. This new research specifically targets a molecule called "sp3", which binds to HDAC2 and disrupts synaptic communication which is an essential component for memory formation.

Li-Huei Tsai, lead author of the study explains the basis of this blockade, stating: “If we can remove the blockade by inhibiting HDAC2 activity or reducing HDAC2 levels, then we can remove the blockade and restore expression of all these genes necessary for learning and memory.” HDAC2 binds genes responsible for memory generation compactly together, thus preventing their expression. The researchers are hoping to extend these findings to the management of other conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, which also has elevated levels of HDAC2.

3. Material similar to the brain responsible for forgetfulness

In the initial stages, the structure of the material either expanded or contracted in order to accommodate the proton. This process was termed “lattice breathing”. Photo credit: Argonne National Laboratory/ Science Daily
In the initial stages, the structure of the material either expanded or contracted in order to accommodate the proton. This process was termed “lattice breathing”. Photo credit: Argonne National Laboratory/ Science Daily

Recently, researchers from the US Department of Energy have uncovered a material that resembles networks found in the brain that help us forget superfluous information. The study used a combination of techniques including X-rays and supercomputer stimulation to characterise this material which is called a "quantum perovskite".

This research is vital as it offers scientists a glimpse into how the brain can discard unnecessary information and therefore function more optimally. “The brain has limited capacity, and it can only function efficiently because it is able to forget,” comments Subramanian Sankaranarayanan, author of the study.

Repeated proton extraction and insertion has been utilised to mimic the effect that a persistent, prolonged stimulus has on a brain. In the initial stages, the structure of the material either expanded or contracted in order to accommodate the proton. This process was termed “lattice breathing”. However, in the later stages, the material structure remained unaffected and lattice breathing was markedly reduced in response to proton changes.

The potential scope of this research is immense as it gives researchers some insight into the functioning of neural networks and the way they can be programmed in order to perform specific functions. Possibilities such as applying this research to creating artificial intelligence capable of judgement and facial recognition are currently being explored. MIMS

Read more:
A delicate balance: TREM2 in Alzheimer’s disease
In search of the next Alzheimer’s drug
More to Alzheimer’s disease than just amyloid plaques

Sources:
https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/09/05/national/science-health/japan-scientists-develop-new-noninvasive-method-diagnose-alzheimers-disease/#.Wd-ZZhgZPEY
https://alzheimersnewstoday.com/2017/09/21/nih-grant-to-pain-therapeutics-supports-work-toward-diagnostic-blood-test-for-alzheimers/
http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201709190010.html
https://alzheimersnewstoday.com/2017/08/12/inhibiting-hdac2-enzyme-reverses-memory-loss/
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318872.php
https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-08-blocking-enzyme-linked-alzheimer-reverse.html
https://www.rdmag.com/article/2017/10/bio-inspired-supercomputer-forgets-what-it-doesnt-need
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171010124057.htm