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Study reveals brain cells' weakest links

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1 October 2012

Research funded by BBSRC has revealed new insights into the brain that show for the first time why brain cells can stop communicating properly in degenerative conditions such as Huntington's disease and Alzheimer's. The scientists believe that the findings could help to develop treatments to slow the progress of a broad range of brain disorders.

The team at the University of Edinburgh, led by Professor Tom Gillingwater, analysed how connection points between brain cells break down during disease and identified six proteins that control the process.

When connection points in the brain, known as synapses, stop working – because of injury or disease – the chain of brain signalling breaks down and cannot be repaired.

The research, from The Roslin Institute and Centre for Integrative Physiology at the University, will help scientists identify drugs that target these six proteins, which may help slow the progress of neurological disorders.

Dr Thomas Wishart, of The Roslin Institute, which receives strategic funding from the Biotechology and Biological Sciences Research Council, said: "This study has identified potential key regulators of what goes wrong in a range of brain disorders. We now hope to identify drugs that prevent the breakdown of communication between brain cells and, as a result, halt the progress of these devastating neurodegenerative conditions."

The study, published in PLoS Genetics, was funded by the Wellcome Trust and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

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