Fighting Alzheimer’s by Targeting Brain Cholesterol

Research reveals strategy to prevent the disease or slow its progression

An image of a brain’s neural network Image: iStock.com With Alzheimer’s disease, the neural network in the brain changes as shown in pink and blue.

Despite decades of work, scientists still don’t fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease (AD). And there is no known therapeutic treatment.

Researchers at the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine now believe they understand a key reason Alzheimer’s can develop—and hope to apply this knowledge to identify a therapeutic target.

The scientists—led by Xin Qi, PhD, a professor of physiology and biophysics—published a study this year in Nature Communications suggesting that a particular protein (ATAD3A) plays a major role in the accumulation of brain cholesterol, which in turn triggers the development of Alzheimer’s.

While researchers have known that cholesterol accumulations play a role in Alzheimer’s, the cause of that buildup has not been clear. Qi’s recent work appears to provide a long-awaited answer.

In research models, her team also found that when the protein is blocked using an inhibitor they developed and patented, memory and cognitive abilities improve.

“This means,” said Qi, “that targeting ATAD3A [growth] can likely slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.”