Targeting sleep protein could fight Alzheimer's
Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis are taking a new approach to tyring to prevent Alzheimer's disease. They've been targeting a protein in the brain called orexin that wakes an animal from sleeping.
Specifically, the scientists found that after eliminating orexin in mice, the animals slept longer and the buildup of plaques in their brains was signficantly reduced. The development of of plaques, or clusters of amyloid beta proteins, has been linked to Alzheimer's.
For the new study, the team used mice that had been genetically engineered to develop brain plaques. But when they bred these same mice lacking the gene for orexin, their offspring slept longer and only developed half the number of plaques as mice that could still produce orexin. The researchers found that the mice with no orexin typically slept an extra hour or more during the 12-hour period when mice with orexin were more active. When they repeated the experiment the other way around and artificially increased orexin levels throughout the brain, the researchers found the mice were awake for longer periods and developed more brain plaques.
The team is now looking at how sleep medication might affect the production of amyloid beta and the accumulation of plaques.