A study published in April has found a link between neurological birth defects in infants and several neurodegenerative diseases, which may help understanding and treating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.
These neurological birth defects (neural tube defects) occur when misfolded proteins accumulate in the cells of the developing nervous system. The proteins form clumps and cause widespread cell death, leading to birth defects.
Protein clumps are also a factor in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease.
According to the study’s lead author, Zhiyong Zhao:
“These results were really surprising. The association suggests that these disparate diseases may have more in common than we previously realized.”
Furthermore, the study found an association between pregnant women diagnosed with diabetes and their infants’ neural tube defects. People with diabetes are at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, while other research suggests that there are molecular links between Huntington’s and diabetes as well.
These overlapping links may begin to shed new light on these diseases.
The researchers thusly examined how to reduce levels of the misfolded proteins to reduce neural tube defects. They gave their test subjects (diabetic pregnant animals) sodium 4-phenylbutyrate (PBA), a compound that aims to ensure proper protein folding. In the animals that received PBA, there was significantly less protein misfolding and therefore fewer neural tube defects in the embryos.