One of the main brain proteins implicated In Alzheimer’s disease is called amyloid beta. It is unclear what amyloid beta’s role is in a healthy brain, but it seems to be generated as a byproduct of communication between neurons. In Alzheimer’s disease, the amyloid beta becomes misfolded and clumps together in harmful “plaques” that are toxic to neurons. These plaques accumulate years before the onset of memory problems. It is believed that the extended presence of the amyloid plaques may lead to other biological changes in the brain that produce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
A key strategy to treat Alzheimer’s disease is to try to stop the accumulation of amyloid beta, or to remove it once it has accumulated. The drugs that are the furthest along in clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease are called monoclonal antibodies. In the body, the immune system produces antibodies to target and remove harmful substances. Scientists can now make genetically engineered antibodies that target amyloid and other toxic proteins involved in Alzheimer’s disease, and several of these anti-amyloid antibodies are being tested to remove amyloid in living patients. We are awaiting more definitive information about whether anti-amyloid antibodies will be effective Alzheimer’s treatments.
Current information on this approach can be found at alzforum.org.