New treatments for brain disorders including Alzheimer’s disease and autism could be developed thanks to a research breakthrough, scientists have said.
A large collection of nerve proteins have been linked to around 130 brain diseases. Scientists hope this could lead to the development of multifunctional drugs for treating more than one condition.
The researchers from England and the US made the discovery after investigating synapses in patients undergoing brain surgery.
A total of 1,461 proteins, each encoded by a different gene, were found to be active in human synapses.
The proteins worked together to form a molecular machine known as the postsynaptic density, or PSD.
Professor Seth Grant, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire said: “We found that over 130 brain diseases involve the PSD - far more than expected.
“These diseases include common debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders, as well as epilepsies and childhood developmental diseases including forms of autism and learning disability.
“Our findings have shown that the human PSD is at centre stage of a large range of human diseases affecting many millions of people.”
The research, published in Nature Neuroscience, shows that every seventh “suspect” in the protein line-up is involved in a known clinical disorder.
“Over half of them are repeat offenders,” said co-author Professor Jeffrey Noebels, from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.
Since many diseases involve the same proteins, the scientists believe the research could lead to multi-condition treatments.
Prof Grant said: “The conservation of the structure of these proteins suggests that the behaviours governed by the PSD and the diseases associated with them have not changed much over many millions of years.
“It also shows that synapses in rodents are much more similar to humans than we expected, showing that mice and rats are suitable models for studying human brain disease.”