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Penn Study Gives Hope for New Class of Alzheimer’s Disease Drugs

Posted Oct 19 2010 5:37pm

Finding a drug that can cross the blood-brain barrier is the bane of drug development for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders of the brain. A new Penn study, published this week in the Journal of Neuroscience, has found and tested in an animal model of Alzheimer’s disease a class of drug that is able to enter the brain, where it stabilizes degenerating neurons and improves memory and learning.

In the normal brain, the protein tau plays an important role in stabilizing structures called microtubules in nerve cells, which serve as tracks upon which cellular material is transported. In Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders, tau becomes insoluble and forms clumps in the brain. One consequence of these aggregates is a depletion of normal tau, resulting in destabilization of the microtubule tracks that are critical for proper nerve-cell function.

Senior authors Virginia M.-Y. Lee, PhD, director of the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research (CNDR), and John Trojanowski, MD, PhD, director of the Institute on Aging and CNDR co-director, introduced the concept of using microtubule-stabilizing drugs over 15 years ago to counteract tangles of tau and compensate for the loss of normal tau function. Kurt Brunden, PhD, director of Drug Discovery at CNDR and Bin Zhang, MD, PhD, senior research investigator, are the first authors on this study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicineand the School of Arts and Sciences.

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