This month our Exotics News Editor, Charlotte Hitch, takes a look at some interesting research being conducted into the treatment of prion diseases using gene switching. Something to whet your biochemistry and genetics appetites!
Treatment of prion and other neurodegenerative diseases with injection of a single protein
Charlotte Hitch (Vet News Exotics Editor)
The prognoses of animals with neurodegenerative diseases may become much more hopeful thanks to new research carried out at the University of Leicester into the promotion of cell growth in damaged brain tissue using biochemical pathways.
Researchers have discovered a way of deactivating neurodegeneration caused by a number of diseases such as canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) and prion diseases by switching off a pathway which has been identified as the mechanism for neural cell death and resulting encephalopathy.
The research has given new hope to the veterinary world due to its potential to treat previously untreatable neurodegenerative diseases, many of which seem to share a common feature – the build-up of misshapen proteins in cerebral tissue. In CCD, this build-up is of beta amyloid plaque, while in certain prion diseases, the build-up is of the prion itself and the body’s own proteins which are damaged by it.
In mice, it has been shown that the build-up of these mis-folded proteins correlates with cell death inside the brain; by the means of a response mechanism which switches ‘off’ protein synthesis in neural cells when build-ups of these proteins are detected, preventing cell repair and proliferation. There is no switching back ‘on’ of the production of proteins, as the continual build-up of the proteins acts as positive feedback for this system.
The research has now been able to isolate a protein which, when injected into brain tissue, blocks the pathway by which this cycle occurs, allowing protein synthesis to commence once more and aiding the recovery of the brain cells. This has the potential to increase the lifespan of both animals and humans suffering from a range of neurodegenerative conditions, such as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, Exotic Ungulate Encephalopathy, Scrapie, Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and many more.
Cummings BJ, Head E, Afagh AJ et al. (1996) ‘Beta-amyloid accumulation correlates with cognitive dysfunction in the aged canine’, Neurobiology of learning and memory,66(1), pp. 11-23.