New understanding of the aging brain

     Variations of the gene that protects the brain as it ages may also
                 indicate a susceptibility for Alzheimer's.

    TORONTO, Sept. 10 /CNW/ - A team of researchers led by scientists at The
Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) has discovered that the mammalian gene,
p73 is essential for protecting the brain through the normal aging process.
The findings suggest that reduced levels of p73 may increase a person's
likelihood of developing Alzheimer's or another neurodegenerative disorder.
Their findings are published in the September 2008 issue of Neuron.
    Using mouse models, researchers determined that a genetic variation that
causes insufficiency for p73 leads to behavioural and anatomical changes
commonly observed in the aging brain. Decreased levels of p73 were also found
to cause key hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease, namely the appearance of
deposits that resemble tangles, which are thought to interfere with and impair
thinking and memory.
    "These findings are particularly exciting because little is known about
why and how the brain ages or develops a disease like Alzheimer's," says
Dr. David Kaplan, Senior Scientist in the Cell Biology Program at SickKids,
professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics, at the University of
Toronto, Canada Research Chair in Cancer and Neuroscience, and a co-lead
author of the study.
    "By showing the previously unsuspected role that p73 plays in
neurodegeneration, we are one step closer to unraveling this mystery," adds
Dr. Freda Miller, Senior Scientist in the Developmental & Stem Cell Biology
Program at SickKids, professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the
University of Toronto, Canada Research Chair in Developmental Biology, Howard
Hughes Medical Institute International Research Scholar and the study's other
co-lead author.
    These findings could eventually lead to the development of genetic tests
that measure levels of the gene and help determine whether a person is at
enhanced risk for developing Alzheimer's. Early detection of this genetic
anomaly in children could lead to therapies to address the issue before it
manifests itself later in life. Other possibilities could include the
development of drugs that increase the levels of p73, potentially helping to
delay or halt the progression of neurodegenerative disease and aging.
    The Alzheimer's Society of Canada estimates that 450,000 (or one in 13)
Canadians over the age of 65 have Alzheimer's or similar degenerative brain
diseases. Approximately $5.5 billion (CAD) a year is spent on persons with
Alzheimer's and related dementias.
    The study was supported by the Canadian Institute of Health Research, the
Heart & Stroke Foundation, Neuroscience Canada, and SickKids Foundation.

    The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), affiliated with the University
of Toronto, is Canada's most research-intensive hospital and the largest
centre dedicated to improving children's health in the country. As innovators
in child health, SickKids improves the health of children by integrating care,
research and teaching. Our mission is to provide the best in complex and
specialized care by creating scientific and clinical advancements, sharing our
knowledge and expertise and championing the development of an accessible,
comprehensive and sustainable child health system. For more information,
please visit SickKids is committed to healthier children for
a better world.

For further information:

For further information: Janice Nicholson, The Hospital for Sick
Children, (416) 813-6684,

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