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Research Links Dementia Gene to the Ageing Process

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A new research paper suggesting a connection between a specific gene and the ageing process of a species of worms could be responsible for revealing important information for future Alzheimer’s disease treatment. According to Yee Lian Chew, the main investigator of the new study, the low levels of a specific protein are responsible for shortening the life of the worm, while also hastening other age-related changes. The protein is regulated by the tau gene, a gene that is found in worms and humans as well. Yee Lian’s study was recently published in the Journal of Cell Science.

According to Yee Lian, the investigated worms that lacked the tau gene had a shorter lifespan by almost one thirds, when compared to the worms that had the tau gene. This results provides important information that the tau gene is closely connected to the processes involved in the regulation of lifespan. Her findings, in addition to the experiments that were conducted on laboratory mice and other laboratory animal models might prove to be extremely important for the development of future therapies for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. She also added that there is one study that suggests that if the activity of the tau gene is lowered, the patients will experience cognitive improvement. However, her new study suggests that if the activity of the tau gene is too little, it causes the ageing processes to hasten.

The test subjects of the study are known as Caenorhabditis elegans, a species of nematodes found in the soils of temperate weather. The nematode is transparent and it is less than 1 mm in length. Yee Lian says that these nematodes are excellent study models for brain ageing due to the fact that they are transparent. Their transparency allows researchers to easily examine the changes that occur in their brains.

Even though humans are much more complex than nematodes, Yee Lian says that there are numerous similarities on molecular level. Furthermore, experiments on nematodes are made easy due to their lack of complexion. These particular nematodes only have a little over 300 brain cells, compared to humans, who have more than 100 billion brain cells. The small number of brain cells found in these worms allowed researchers to observe each cell individually.

The human ageing process is linked to subtle changes that occur within the brain. These subtle changes can be compared to the changes investigated in the brains of the nematodes. Some of the similarities include the formation and growth of beads and branches across the axons of the nerve cells. The most important discovery of the study is that of the occurrence of the abnormal axon structures. In the worms with either low activity of the tau gene or complete absence, the abnormal structures first appear before middle age. However, the worms with a normal activity of the tau gene only experienced these abnormal structures later in their lives.

“This suggests that the lack of tau causes worm brain cells to age faster”, concluded Yee Lian Chew. Her discovery could bring new important information for Alzheimer’s disease therapies. It is approximated that Alzheimer’s disease currently affects 1 in every 4 people aged over 85. Yee Lian added that her research is a stepping stone for the ultimate goal: creating an improved diagnosis technique and better treatment for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.