Researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have been conducting research on tau proteins, specifically how it spreads from cell to cell. According to an article in Newswise, this team of researchers has been awarded $2.6 million over the course of four years to investigate tau.
About Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disorder that causes the degeneration and death of brain cells. It occurs in stages, with severity increasing as time goes on. In the later stages of the disease, people will experience significant memory loss and be unable to carry out everyday tasks. The major symptom of this condition is memory loss. Other issues that people experience include problems with thinking and reasoning, making judgments and decisions, planning and completing familiar tasks, and more. They will experience changes in personality and behavior. Other complications can also arise from Alzheimer’s, such as aspiration, pneumonia, infections, falls, fractures, bedsores, malnutrition, and dehydration.
Medical professionals believe that Alzheimer’s is caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. What healthcare professionals do know is that brain cells deteriorate and die. They also suspect that plaques and tangles, which are both proteins, play an important role. There are risk factors that may heighten the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Age is a major factor, as people usually develop this condition after 65. If one has a relative that is affected, they are also at a higher risk. Females are also affected at a higher rate than males. Those with past head trauma, poor sleeping patterns, poor exercise patterns, or other unhealthy lifestyle habits have a higher chance of Alzheimer’s disease.
What Is Tau?
Tau is a flexible and dynamic protein found within neurons. It is different from other proteins in that it can perform multiple functions and interact with multiple other proteins. While it has the ability to carry out more than one job, its main function is to create the “intracellular highway” to allow the transportation of cellular goods.
Most of the time, these proteins perform their job in the normal way and cause no problems. This is not the case in those with Alzheimer’s. They become misfolded, clumping together into tangles and killing neurons. It is these tangles that cause memory loss, medical professionals suspect. They spread through the brain like a prion, which is a form of infection.
About the Research
Armed with the knowledge that tau spreads like a prion, researchers began to look into how exactly it moves from cell to cell. They discovered that the 3-O-sulfate group on heparan sulfate is necessary in this process.
Looking towards the future, researchers will examine how tau and heparan sulfate interact on a molecular level. They will generate 3D pictures, and they will also utilize mouse models. These models will have heparan sulfate without the 3-O-sulfate group, which will allow researchers to see if tau can spread without this specific group.
This research is extremely important, as a better understanding of Alzheimer’s and its progression will lead to better treatments.