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A compound that stopped brain cells from dying in an animal model of Alzheimer's disease could lead to new treatments for people with the condition who live with depression and deterioration in memory and thinking.
In a report recently published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, researchers describe how an experimental compound called P7C3-S243 prevented death of brain cells, or neurons, in a rat model of Alzheimer's disease.
The research team — which was led by Andrew Pieper, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa in Iowa City — found that the compound stopped the animals from developing behavioral symptoms of depression, and later on, the problems with memory and learning that often follow.
The study is significant because, while P7C3-S243 appeared to stop the rats from developing symptoms akin to Alzheimer's, it did so without altering other hallmarks of the disease — such as the buildup of toxic proteins in their brains.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, a progressive brain-wasting disease that gradually erodes people's ability to think, remember, make decisions, communicate, and take care of themselves.
As well as problems with memory and thinking, Alzheimer's is also tied to a number of psychiatric illnesses, including depression. In fact, the researchers note that depression can often arise before the changes in memory and thinking appear, and that developing depression for the first time later in life is thought to be a significant risk factor for Alzheimer's.
Around 65 percent of the 47 million people worldwide who have dementia are thought to have Alzheimer's disease.
In the United States, where Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death, it is the only one of the top 10 killers for which there is currently no cure or way to prevent or even slow it down.
In recent years, deaths from many major causes have fallen, but in the case of Alzheimer's disease, they have risen significantly. Between 2000 and 2014, for example, deaths from Alzheimer's rose by 89 percent, while deaths from heart disease — the number one killer in the U.S. — fell by 14 percent.
At present, there are around 5.5 million U.S. people living with Alzheimer's disease. By 2050, this figure could rise to 16 million, in line with increasing numbers of older people.
The brains of people with Alzheimer's develop several characteristic hallmarks. Prominent among these are clumps, or "plaques," of a protein called amyloid beta, and "neurofibrillary tangles" of another protein called tau. These features are accompanied by inflammation and the loss of connections between — and the eventual death of — neurons.
This material was created specially for WorldHealthNews project by Masha Guthrie.
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