Register for updates

 
 

Medicine & Health
RSS Feed
"Bird Brains" Are Smart on Alzheimer's
Monday, April 18, 2011 10:30:00 AM

"Bird brain" may be an insult, but genes found in the brains of these animals tell Prof. Hagit Eldar-Finkelman of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine something very exciting about Alzheimer's disease and other brain-related neurodegenerative disorders.

Prof. Eldar-Finkelman and zoologist Prof. Anat Barnea of TAU's Department of Natural Sciences have discovered that birds are missing a variant of a very common gene, known as "GSK," found in most animals and plants. Unlike most life on planet earth, birds appear to be lacking the "alpha" variant of the GSK gene. Armed with this information, the world of science now has a new tool for discovering what GSK alpha does to the human brain when it appears in significant amounts.

The GSK gene — or a variant of it — causes a build-up of phosphorus in the brain, and this build-up, called phosphorylation, impacts a protein called tau. This is one of the two major causes of Alzheimer's, according to researchers. Until now, the scientific community has been divided as to whether GSK or its variants GSK alpha and GSK beta cause Alzheimer's. The other major contributing factor is amyloid plaque in the brain.

Highlighting alpha’s role

In the course of previous research investigating a cure for Alzheimer's, Prof. Eldar-Finkelman suspected that by investigating the behavior of the variants of the GSK gene, she could speed up the drug discovery process.

"We are trying to develop a specific inhibitor as a potential therapy against diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases. Armed with this new information from birds, we may have a powerful tool for better understanding the role of GSK alpha in the brain," says Prof. Eldar-Finkelman.

As animals evolve and become more complicated, gene variants develop. But for some reason, birds stopped creating the GSK alpha version of the enzyme at one point in their evolution. "That's the fascinating part of the story," she says. "The enzyme is a very important target for drug discovery. What's the difference between alpha and beta, and which variant should we develop the drugs for? Our study shines a new light on the role of the alpha variant."

A new drug formula

The researchers were surprised by their discovery that birds lacked the alpha version of the gene. The loss of the alpha variant may also explain some of the highly evolved learning skills that can be found in sophisticated birds like parrots, Prof. Eldar-Finkelman says.

Prof. Eldar-Finkelman is now pursuing research to confirm that the alpha variant is definitely the GSK variant that causes phosphorus build-up in the brain. If that is the case, removing GSK alpha from the human brain may impede the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

However, Prof. Eldar-Finkelman cautions that some GSK alpha is probably needed for other brain functions. She is working on a drug formulation that moderates, but does not completely eliminate, the enzyme, modulating its presence back to the levels of a healthy brain.





Latest News

TAU and Technion Researchers Wrest Control of One of World's Most Secure PLCs

Rogue engineering station instigated "hostile intervention" of Siemens programmable logic controller that runs industrial processes.

Novel Immunotherapy May Prevent Brain Metastases

Injection of synthetic DNA material found to activate brain's immune cells and kill invading tumor cells, TAU researchers say.

TAU Scientists Develop Novel Nano-Vaccine for Melanoma

Injection of nanoparticle has proven effective in mouse models, researchers say.

Genetic Screen Identifies Genes That Protect Cells from Zika Virus

Genes found to safeguard against infection as well as resuscitate infected cells, TAU researchers say.

Jennifer Gross Named Chief Executive Officer of AFTAU

Accomplished executive brings extensive experience from Jewish philanthropy and the financial services industry.

Fat Cells Play Key Role in Dangerous Transformation of Melanoma

Fat cells allow melanoma cells to penetrate the dermis, causing fatal metastases in vital organs, TAU researchers say.

New Antibacterial Fillings from TAU May Combat Recurring Tooth Decay

Novel material may prevent one of the costliest and most prevalent bacterial diseases in the world.

First Proof-of-Concept Demonstrates Genetic Sex Selection in Mammals

Crossed transgenic mouse lines struck males without affecting females, TAU researchers say.

2019 Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival Looks to the Future

International students, filmmakers and glitterati flock to 21st edition of festival, held throughout the city of Tel Aviv.

TAU Scientist Prof. Judith Berman Is Elected Member of European Molecular Biology Organization

EMBO promotes excellence in the life sciences in Europe and beyond.

contentSecondary
c

© 2019 American Friends of Tel Aviv University
39 Broadway, Suite 1510 | New York, NY 10006 | 212.742.9070 | info@aftau.org
Privacy policy | Tel Aviv University