MORE THAN 5-MILLION PEOPLE in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is expected to rise to more than 7.5 million by 2030.
Can that increase be checked? UCLA Professor of Neurology David Teplow, Ph.D., is exploring a promising lead. With colleagues at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, Dr. Teplow is studying compounds in red wine called polyphenols. Epidemiological studies have suggested that drinking red wine may reduce the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, and work in Dr. Teplow’s lab now shows that polyphenols may in fact prevent the buildup of the toxic plaques that are associated with the wasting disease.
Toxic plaques in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease are primarily composed of two proteins: ABeta 40 and ABeta 42. Dr. Teplow and his colleagues have studied how the ABeta 40 and ABeta 42 fold up and stick to each other to form aggregates that kill brain cells. They then treated the proteins with a polyphenol compound and discovered that the polyphenol blocked formation of the toxic aggregates.
The findings are “pretty straightforward,” Dr. Teplow says. “If the AB proteins can’t assemble, toxic aggregates can’t form, and thus there is no toxicity.” It may be that administering the compound to Alzheimer’s patients “might block the development of these toxic aggregates, prevent disease development and also ameliorate existing disease.” Human clinical trials will determine if a drug composed of polyphenol compounds is safe and effective.Illustration: Courtesy of Pep Montserat