Scientists have linked the mutation of a protein associated with a specific gene to breast and ovarian cancer. Now a recent study by California researchers has found that low levels of the same protein, BRCA1, might contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
BRCA1 is a protein, which in mutant form, “has been studied primarily as a genetic risk factor for ovarian and breast cancer,” the authors wrote in the study published Nov. 30 in Nature Communications. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
BRCA1 dip may be the culprit
The researchers suspected defects in DNA repair mechanisms could contribute to cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease and focused their studies on BRCA1, which plays a key role in repairing DNA. The authors examined brains of patients who died with Alzheimer’s and discovered low levels of BRCA1, according to the release.
In addition, the researchers found reductions of BRCA1 in the brains of mouse models of Alzheimer’s. Experimental reduction of BRCA1 levels in brains of healthy mice made their brain cells shrink and become dysfunctional, according to the release. Mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease showed even greater declines in learning and memory following reductions of BRCA1.
“The functions of BRCA1 in the brain remain to be fully elucidated, but our findings suggest that it may play an important role in supporting critical brain functions in both health and disease,” senior author Lennart Mucke, MD, said in the release.
Mucke is director of the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease, San Francisco, and the Joseph B. Martin Distinguished Professor of Neuroscience and professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco.
Further research is necessary to determine whether BRCA1 may be a potential therapeutic target for treating dementia, and whether BRCA1 mutations that lead to cancer also affect brain function, according to the release.
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