Protein that rouses the brain from sleep may be target for Alzheimer’s prevention

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From the WUSTL Newsroom…

A protein that stimulates the brain to awaken from sleep may be a target for preventing Alzheimer’s disease, a study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests.

In recent years, scientists at Washington University have established links between sleep problems and Alzheimer’s. For example, they have shown in people and in mice that sleep loss contributes to the growth of brain plaques characteristic of Alzheimer’s, and increases the risk of dementia.

The new research, in mice, demonstrates that eliminating the protein – called orexin – made mice sleep for longer periods of time and strongly slowed the production of brain plaques.

“This indicates we should be looking hard at orexin as a potential target for preventing Alzheimer’s disease,” said senior author David M. Holtzman, MD, head of the Department of Neurology. “Blocking orexin to increase sleep in patients with sleep abnormalities, or perhaps even to improve sleep efficiency in healthy people, may be a way to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. This is important to explore  further.”

The research appears Nov. 24 in The Journal of Experimental Medicine.

Brain plaques, which are mostly made of a protein called amyloid beta, accumulate in the brain before the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms such as memory loss, personality changes and disorientation. These plaques continue to collect as the disease progresses. Scientists think that slowing or stopping this buildup could slow or stop the disease.

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Posted on December 4, 2014
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