Fly Research May Help Find Cause Of Alzheimer's
September 26, 2012

Research On Fruit Fly Brains May Point To Cause Of Alzheimer’s

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

New research from Tel Aviv University (TAU) has revealed that the study of fruit fly neurons could help us to understand the cause of Alzheimer´s disease.

Scientists have long utilized fruit flies as research subjects in a wide variety of fields, especially in the study of developmental biology and genetics. According to TAU, the nervous systems of both fruit flies and humans share a number of characteristics, and the basic size, structure and function of the neurons in fly brains are thought to be largely similar to those of human brains. Flies have also proven to be helpful subjects in the study of ageing and neurodegenerative diseases.

For this study, scientists at the TAU examined the activity of fruit fly neurons in an attempt to understand how human neuron cells interact with one another at the cellular levels as well as the factors that impact the vitality of these critical cells.

"A lot of basic discoveries in neurobiology have been made on invertebrates. If you want to see things on a cellular level, there are a lot of advantages to using these models," explained Ya´ara Saad, a doctoral candidate in Professor Amir Ayalai´s lab under TAU´s Department of Zoology and the Sagol School of Neurosciences, in a prepared statement

For the study, a group of fruit flies were genetically altered so that they would express Amyloid Beta, a peptide found in the protein-based plaque of patients with Alzheimer´s. Researchers studied the mutant fruit flies and then compared their results with a control group of flies that had not been genetically modified.

The team believes that the study will be beneficial in explaining how Alzheimer´s symptoms are related to the production of Amyloid Beta. Symptoms like motor problems, learning issues and shorter lifespan are of particular interest. The findings of the researchers were recently featured in the Journal of Molecular Histology.

"Now I can really get into the molecular operation of Amyloid Beta inside the cell. I can watch the dysfunction in the synapses, monitor the proteins involved, and record electrical activity in a much more accessible way," continued Saad in the statement.

The researchers started by focusing on the growth and development of neural networks via the addition of new neurons. They looked at the fly´s nervous system as single cells and then separated the individual cells into Petri dishes. After a few days, the neurons started to grow towards one another and began to reconnect, slowly forming groups of cells. The cells ended by reforming and reorganizing a sophisticated network of neuronal connections.

The researchers observed individual neurons and tracked the growth of proteins, electrical activity and development of synapses to measure the physical changes occurring within the neural network. The study of the physical changes was used in understanding the process of neurodegenerative diseases on neurons as well as in testing different medical treatments.

The scientists believe that the results of the study will allow the development of new treatments in response to degenerative diseases like Alzheimer´s. In the next phase of the project, they plan to examine different medications and identify a treatment that allows the neurons to have normal chemical make-up, function and morphology.