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ovarian cancer Alzheimer's

Ovarian Cancer Protein May Worsen Alzheimer’s Neurodegeneration

By Tanner Jensen | January 20th, 2020

A new study by Houston Methodist scientists finds that a protein linked to ovarian cancer may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The study, led by Dr. Stephen Wong, may hold implications for future Alzheimer’s disease research.

The protein is known as OCIAD1 (ovarian cancer immune-reactive antigen domain containing 1), and was previously discovered to have an effect on ovarian cancer metastasis — the process of cancer growth. But it turns out OCIAD1 is also found in the brain, where it appears to impair neurons and synapses, subsequently contributing to neurodegeneration. The study was published in the online journal EBiomedicine.

How OCIAD1 Affects the Brain

Researchers combed through archived data on brain tissue from deceased Alzheimer’s disease patients and employed mouse models to conduct the study. They concluded that OCIAD1 seems to contribute to neurodegeneration in the brain by impairing mitochondria.

Mitochondria, commonly referred to in science textbooks as the “powerhouse” of the cell, are organelles that provide every cell in the body with energy. Mitochondria are also crucial in supporting neuron function, and it’s well-known that their decline is often associated with aging and dementia. They’ve been examined for their therapeutic potential in treating Alzheimer’s in the past.

The recent results show that OCIAD1 contributes to Alzheimer’s disease by impairing the function of mitochondria within brain cells. Damage to these organelles leads to cell death, resulting in widespread neuron damage.

Finding a link between OCIAD1 and mitochondria decline provides scientists with yet another clue for what may cause Alzheimer’s, and helps piece together the complicated factors in play during neurodegeneration.

“We applied a system biology strategy to see if we could find a different mechanism of neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease,” Xuping Li, a co-author of the study and an instructor in Wong’s group, said in a news release. “We identified OCIAD1 as a new neurodegeneration-relevant factor, predicted its function and demonstrated it mediates the long-term impact of amyloid-beta on cells and synaptic damages by impairing mitochondria function.”

Exploring New Avenues of Research

Research into Alzheimer’s disease has traditionally been focused on the role of amyloid-beta and tau proteins within the brain: how they develop, how they contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease and how they can be removed or prevented from forming. More recent research has trended toward exploring other avenues, an approach that Wong supports.

“Our finding suggests another known protein may be coming into play here, which could help us identify a new therapeutic target one day,” Wong said. “These findings may suggest a different role of the protein amyloid beta in neurodegeneration. Many Alzheimer’s researchers have focused on amyloid beta alone, or connections between amyloid beta and another protein, tau.”

Wong’s group now aims to investigate the role OCIAD1 plays in the relationship between amyloid beta and tau aggregates. If it’s found to have further significance, the protein may become an Alzheimer’s biomarker or treatment target.

“Examining factors that contribute to the progressive decline in people with Alzheimer’s will help us develop diagnostic biomarkers and new therapeutics,” concluded Wong.

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