Controlling the level of a fatty acid in the brain could help treat Alzheimer's disease, an American study has suggested.

Tests on mice showed that reducing excess levels of the acid lessened animals' memory problems and behavioural changes.

Writing in Nature Neuroscience, the team said fatty acid levels could be controlled through diet or drugs.

A UK Alzheimer's expert called the work "robust and exciting".

There are currently 700,000 people living with dementia in the UK, but that number is forecast to double within a generation.

Over-stimulation

Scientists from Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease and the University of California looked at fatty acids in the brains of normal mice and compared them with those in mice genetically engineered to have an Alzheimer's-like condition.

They identified raised levels of a fatty acid called arachidonic acid in the brains of the Alzheimer's mice.

Its release is controlled by the PLA2 enzyme.

The scientists again used genetic engineering to lower PLA2 levels in the animals, and found that even a partial reduction halted memory deterioration and other impairments.

Dr Rene Sanchez-Mejia, who worked on the study, said: "The most striking change we discovered in the Alzheimer's mice was an increase in arachidonic acid and related metabolites [products] in the hippocampus, a memory centre that is affected early and severely by Alzheimer's disease."

He suggested too much arachidonic acid might over-stimulate brain cells, and that lowering levels allowed them to function normally.

Dr Lennart Mucke, who led the research, added: "In general, fatty acid levels can be regulated by diet or drugs.

"Our results have important therapeutic implications because they suggest that inhibition of PLA2 activity might help prevent neurological impairments in Alzheimer's disease.

"But a lot more work needs to be done before this novel therapeutic strategy can be tested on humans."

'Cautious optimism'

Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the UK's Alzheimer's Research Trust, said: "This research on mice suggests a connection between fatty acids and the abnormal brain activity that exists in Alzheimer's disease.

"This is cause for cautious optimism, as fatty acid levels can be controlled to some extent by diet and drugs.

"However, it is not yet clear if these findings are applicable to humans, and a lot more research is needed before any human trials can be conducted."

Professor Clive Ballard, director of Research at the Alzheimer's Society, said the work was "robust and exciting".

He added: "This is a novel and potentially exciting area of research, but it is still at a very early stage.

"Much more research is needed to see if fatty acids could lead to a treatment for those living with the devastating effects of Alzheimer's disease."

fatty 肥胖的   【醫】脂肪過多的

treat 對待;看待,把...看作   探討;論述     醫療,治療

Alzheimer's disease阿耳滋海默氏病症;老人癡呆症

mice (mouse的複數) 鼠

lessened 變小,變少;減輕

behavioural 行為(學)的

Neuroscience【醫】神經科學

robust 強健的;茁壯的;健全的  (酒)醇厚的;(味)濃的

dementia 癡呆

forecast預測,預報

stimulation 刺激;興奮;激勵;鼓舞

Institute 學會,學社,協會;會館   (專科性的)學校,學院,大學;研究所

genetically engineered 遺傳基因工程

arachidonic ?

enzyme【生化】酵

partial 部分的,局部的;不完全的

halted 暫停,停止;終止

deterioration 惡化,變壞;退化;墮落

impairments損傷

striking 惹人注目的;顯著的,突出的

metabolites 【生】代謝物

hippocampus【動】海馬   【希神】【羅神】馬頭魚尾怪獸

severely 嚴格地;嚴厲地;嚴重地;嚴肅地

regulated 管理;控制;為...制訂規章  校準;調整,調節

therapeutic 治療的;治療學的;有療效的  有益於健康的

implications 牽連;涉及;捲入  含意;言外之意;暗示

inhibition 禁止  抑制

neurological 神經學的;神經病學的

novel 小說   新的 新穎的,新奇的

executive 行政部門   經理;業務主管    執行者;行政官;高級官員

abnormal 不正常的,反常的;不規則的 

findings 發現   調查(或研究)的結果

potentially 潛在地;可能地 

devastating 破壞性極大的,毀滅性的

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