Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine (WUSM) in St. Louis have spent some years investigating the links between circadian rhythm and Alzheimer’s, and have recently been making some real inroads. Following a 2018 study demonstrating how disrupted sleep can accelerate the buildup of toxic plaques associated with the disease, the team has now identified a protein implicated in the progression of the disease that appears highly regulated by the circadian rhythm, helping them join the dots and providing a potential new therapeutic target.
In their previous research, the WUSM team set out to explore how disruptions to our natural sleep cycles, or circadian rhythm, may accelerate the accumulation of amyloid plaques in the brain, which are strongly linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Through studies on humans and in mice, the team was able to show a strong correlation between the two, and now through follow up work, the team has identified a brain protein that appears to play a role in this relationship.
The brain protein in question is called YKL-40 and for years has served as a biomarker for Alzheimer’s, as high levels of it have been found in the cerebrospinal fluid of those suffering from the disease and these levels rise as the disease progresses. The researchers were screening for genes that are regulated by the circadian rhythm, and were intrigued to see the gene for this brain protein pop up.