Israeli researchers have discovered that the amount of a specific protein is severely reduced in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease caused by brain cell death. Currently there is no cure, but according to researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), we now know what may trigger it.
Dr. Debbie Toiber, of the BGU Department of Life Sciences, and her team discovered that a specific protein — Sirtuin-6 (SIRT6) — is severely reduced in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. SIRT6 is critical to the repair of DNA, the deterioration of which “is the beginning of the chain that ends in neurodegenerative diseases in seniors,” she explains.
Dr. Toiber and her team are examining DNA damage as the cause of aging and age-related diseases. DNA in each cell breaks down due to natural causes, such as metabolism and the usage of the DNA to produce proteins. She discovered that as a person ages, the amount of the SIRT6 protein in the brain declines. In fact, according to Dr. Toiber, “In Alzheimer’s patients, it is almost completely gone.”
The blood-brain barrier prevents us from simply being able to inject the protein into the brain to replenish its supply. Dr. Toiber is currently working on finding a way to increase the expression of the protein into the brain.
When the DNA is damaged, Dr. Toiber elaborates, it may lose important information. “If a cell feels it is too dangerous to continue with this damaged DNA, it may activate a self-destruct mechanism. If too many cells do this, the tissue with the dying cells will deteriorate, such as the brain.”
DNA damage is inevitable on some level by simply living, with the environment causing additional damage. “We repair it and continue going on. But the repairs are not perfect and some DNA remains unrepaired. As you get older, unrepaired DNA accumulates.”
Dr. Toiber acknowledges that healthy habits like good diet and exercise might make a difference in our DNA health. She points out that engaging in sports and even working past retirement can challenge the body in positive ways, preparing your cells to react more readily and thus be more likely able to repair themselves.
Even so, you can’t avoid the effects of aging entirely. “You have to remember that half of everyone over the age of 95 will get Alzheimer’s,” she says. “It is not something genetic or environmental. That may influence it a little bit, but when there is a 50-50 chance of getting Alzheimer’s, it demonstrates that it just happens over a lifetime.”
She concludes, “We should be focusing our research on how to maintain production of SIRT6 and improve the repair capacity of the DNA damage that leads to neurodegenerative diseases.”