TOM-1 protein may put the brakes on Alzheimer’s inflammation

(Credit: Chris/Flickr)

The role of a protein called TOM-1 may lead to a shift toward examining the molecular underpinnings of Alzheimer’s processes, researchers report.

“Scientists have known for a long time that inflammation is a driver of Alzheimer’s disease, but inflammation is complex and involves many factors,” says Frank LaFerla, the dean of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, whose laboratory conducted the research. “That’s why we decided to look at TOM-1.”

The protein helps to regulate a key component of the inflammatory response. “We were interested in TOM-1 because its levels are low in the Alzheimer’s brain and in the brains of Alzheimer’s rodent models,” says first author Alessandra Martini, a postdoctoral researcher who worked with LaFerla. “However, its specific role in the disease has largely been unexplored.”

The scientists discovered that reducing the amount of TOM-1 in Alzheimer’s rodent models increased pathology, which included increased inflammation, and exacerbated cognitive problems associated with the disease. Restoring TOM-1 levels reversed those effects.

“You can think of TOM-1 as being like the brakes of a car, and the brakes aren’t working for people with Alzheimer’s,” LaFerla says. “This research shows that fixing the brakes at the molecular level could provide an entirely new therapeutic avenue.

“With millions of people affected by Alzheimers and the numbers growing, we must research a diverse portfolio of approaches so we can one day vanquish this terrible disease.”

The study appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Funding for the research came from the Larry L. Hillblom Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Association, the National Institutes of Health, Brightfocus Foundation, Instituto de Salud Carlos III of Spain co-financed by European Union Grants, and the Australian National Health & Medical Research Council.

Source: UC Irvine