The Riddle of Alzheimer’s: 115 and a Sharp Cookie!

I’ve just been reading a nice article by a group from China led by Sheng Chen. In this review article, several approaches to developing treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease are discussed. These focus on the amyloid precursor plaques, immunotherapy, neurofibrillary tangles, interfering RNA, gene therapy, neuroprotective agents, antioxidative and anti-inflammatory agents as well as adenosine receptor antagonists. The breadth of treatments available is staggering and there are a large number of clinical trials underway for these different options. The main area for research focuses on the amyloid precursor plaques. There are three enzymes that chop the plaques up into pieces. Two are bad enzymes – gamma secretase and beta secretase and one is a good enzyme – alpha secretase. Alpha secretase produces an end product which protects neurons. The other two produce end-products that can form plaques and harm neurons. So the focus of therapy is on increasing the activity of alpha secretase and decreasing the activity of beta and gamma secretase. For each of these strategies, there are many different approaches. The article is well worth a read although its a bit heavy going at times (depending on how familiar you are with the field).  Finally, I briefly checked out the abstract of a paper in Neurobiology of Aging. This was a very interesting report. A 115 year old lady was assessed using psychological testing. Her cognition was the same as someone in their 60’s.  MMSE score (a test of cognition) was 26 (That’s better than me on a bad day!). Sadly, she passed away at 115 and a post-mortem was carried out. She was found to have little evidence of atherosclerosis and there was very little evidence of the plaques described earlier in this article that you would expect to see in Alzheimer’s. Why some people have such stark differences as they age is still not clear although the debate invariably comes down to the specifics of genes, environment and their interactions.


The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor.


Chen S, Zhang X-J, Li L and Le W-D. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2007. Current Experimental Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease. 127-134.

Dunnen W, Brouwer W, Bijlard E, Kamphuis J, van Linschoten K, Eggens-Meijer E and Holstege G. No disease in the brain of a 115-year old woman. Vol 29. Issue 8. August 2008. p1127-1132.

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