SAN ANTONIO (Nov. 2, 2012) — Two newly funded grants totaling $1.2 million will support studies of Alzheimer’s disease at the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies, part of The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.
One grant, $960,000 over four years from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), is furthering studies of environmental toxins and their role in Alzheimer’s risk. VA Merit-Review grant recipient Qitao Ran, Ph.D., and his team found that exposure to pesticides can worsen cognitive decline in mice and increase deposits of amyloid-beta protein in the mouse brain. Amyloid-beta plaques often are seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients studied at autopsy.
Dr. Ran is focusing on mitochondria — mini-power plants in cells that provide most of the ATP, the energy, to neurons. “Neurons, which underlie all learning and memory, need a lot of energy, so well-working mitochondria are especially important to them,” he said. “There is a lot of evidence indicating that mitochondrial dysfunction is a causal factor for Alzheimer’s disease.”
The team seeks to identify drug targets to improve mitochondrial function of neurons and protect against amyloid-beta accumulation in brain.
The second grant, $240,000 over three years, is from the Alzheimer’s Association. In this study Dr. Ran and his team are overexpressing an enzyme called glutaredoxin-2. “If we have more of this enzyme, we believe we can protect the mitochondria and reduce amyloid-beta accumulation,” he said.
The Ran lab has generated a mouse model of this and will test the concept. People also have the enzyme but whether it is not active enough in human Alzheimer’s is still not clear.
Dr. Ran, based at the Barshop Institute laboratories, is assistant professor of cellular and structural biology in the School of Medicine at the UT Health Science Center and research health scientist with the South Texas Veterans Health Care System.
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