By analyzing the structure and function of individual molecules, researchers could predict the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, a devastating disorder that can affect brain function and shape behaviour.
Researchers have already identified a class of molecules called transmembrane proteins (TMSPs), which are essential for normal functioning of the brain.
But the TMSPs in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s aren’t always as efficient as those in people without the disease, and the researchers have a new approach to identifying those proteins that could help identify Alzheimer’s patients and potentially help treat them.
“If we can identify these TMSP proteins in the brain, we could look at the different pathways that are involved in Alzheimer’s and tell if those pathways are different in Alzheimers and not in people with the disease,” said the study’s senior author, John Devereux, a professor of chemistry at the University of Illinois.
The researchers used a new technique called computational genetics to identify which proteins are involved, and then used those proteins to target specific Alzheimer’s cells.
“If we identify the TMAP proteins in people who have Alzheimer’s in the lab, we can target those cells and determine how those cells behave,” said Devereix.
“We could do things like target specific protein families and get a signal from those proteins.”
Computational genetic technology has been developed in recent years to map proteins that can be expressed by living cells and identify the protein family responsible for the function.
“This is a big step forward because it’s one of the first steps in identifying and targeting the proteins that are the cause of Alzheimer,” said Dr. Scott Wechsler, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at the Cleveland Clinic.
Devereaux’s team’s method of identifying the proteins involved in the TMBSP class is similar to a technique called RNA-seq that identifies the genetic code of living cells, and uses RNA to read a gene and read out the instructions for a protein.
The new technique uses a technique known as high-throughput sequencing (HTS) that reads the entire genome.
The team used HTS to analyze the protein sequences in the cells of people who were undergoing brain scans for Alzheimer’s.
The scientists found that the protein-protein interactions in the cell were different in people diagnosed with Alzheimer and healthy controls, suggesting that the TMSSP class of proteins are less involved in people suffering from the disease.
“It means that we have a better sense of what the protein is doing than we had before,” said study co-author Andrew Knecht, a biomedical engineer at Northwestern University.
“The proteins that we’re targeting are the ones that are actually involved in regulating the cell’s metabolism.”
The researchers plan to conduct further tests of the new technique on other TMSP molecules in the people in the study, which will help identify which TMSP protein families are involved.
The researchers plan on working with the National Institutes of Health to develop new drugs for Alzheimer.
In addition to Devereax, other authors on the study include researchers from the University at Buffalo, the University Health Network in Toronto, the Ohio State University, and Georgia Tech.