Neurotrophin-3 may be key to Alzheimer's

Key Chemical Impacts Memory, Learning, Retention

The chemical neurotrophin-3 appears to stimulate and encourage growth of interconnecting networks of nerves in the cerebral cortex, according to new research at UC-Irvine. When neurotrophin-3 is absent, growth and connections are less robust. This dichotomy may help to explain memory and cognitive decline seen in Alzheimer's patients - and point toward potential treatments. The research will be revealed in Neuroscience, December 1 issue.

Richard Robertson, professor of anatomy and neurobiology, and other researchers from UCI's School of Medicine found that cholinergic nerve fibers grow toward sources of neurotrophin-3 during early development. In experiments with mice, without neurotrophin-3 to direct growth, the developing cholinergic nerve fibers appeared to not recognize their normal target cells in the brain. Because of this, the axon nerve fibers aided by these circuits grew irregularly and missed their specific target neural cells.

This finding, according to Robertson, has significant implications for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. Cholinergic neuronal circuits play a key role in the proper information processing by the cerebral cortex and other areas of the brain. The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that determines intelligence, personality, and planning and organization, and these actions are compromised by neurodegenerative diseases.

"Studies on the brains of Alzheimer's patients have shown a marked decline in these cholinergic circuits. Our work demonstrates that neurotrophin-3 is essential to maintain the connections to cerebral cortex neurons," Robertson said. "This study shows that a neurotrophin-3 therapy may be able to induce nerve fibers to regrow in the cerebral cortex, which would be beneficial to people with Alzheimer's."

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