Alzheimer’s is a disease with a number of potential causes and therefore a number of potential targets for prevention. One of those centers on a protein call tau, which can gather in long tangles that kill off neurons in the brain. Scientists have developed what they describe as a vaccine to keep the brain clear of these dangerous clumps, and found that treating mice in this way helped stave off the kind of memory decline associated with the disease.
Tau along with another protein called amyloid beta are thought to be significant players in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Both can build up in clumps that impair cognitive function, with a large number of research endeavors focusing on ways to intervene in their harmful accumulation.
In the case of tau, it is a protein that in a healthy subject actually serves to stabilize the structure within the neurons. But in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, they are often found to have formed in abnormal clumps known as neurofibrillary tangles that play a much more destructive role.
Scientists at the University of New Mexico (UNM) have now come up with a way to scrub the brain clear of these tau tangles in mice. They’ve developed a new type of vaccine based on virus-like particles (VLPs), which are viruses engineered to have their genomes removed so they can’t reproduce, but can trigger an immune response as the body still sees them foreign invaders.