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Scientists have known for a long time that people likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease are those that have a genetic predisposition to the disease or, in other words, there is a family history of the disease. However, they also know that the disease may also occur without genetic influences.

A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania revealed that Alzheimer’s disease may occur in some patients later in life due to epigenetic changes in the brain. This means that the disease is likely to manifest when some genes are turned on and off in the brain. The researchers compared various post-mortem brain cells as part of the study. They include the brain tissue and cells from younger healthy individuals, older individuals, and individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.

Upon studying the brain cells, the researchers’ team made an interesting observation in the brain cells of the person who had Alzheimer’s. They discovered that epigenetic regulators turn off protective pathways, they activate pathways that pave the way for the disease.

“We are trying a completely different approach to reveal the critical changes in brain cells, and our findings show epigenetic changes are driving disease,” stated Dr. Shelley Berger, the lead investigator in the study.

The driving force behind the focus on epigenetic changes

Dr. Berger noted that there have been attempts to develop better Alzheimer’s treatments in the past five years, but they have not yielded any success. Thus, it was a good idea to look at other influences outside the usual scope of research related to the disease. Epigenetics cause changes in gene expression without causing DNA mutations.

The recent findings are important because scientists can now develop a better roadmap for Alzheimer’s treatment. Scientists are particularly excited about this research because drugs can be used to inhibit epigenetic regulators, thus treating Alzheimer’s. The research findings might thus be used as the foundation for the creation of a new generation of treatments for the disease.

The next key area of focus will be to determine the mechanisms that control the brain’s degradative and protective pathways. Understanding those mechanisms could pave the way for an efficient, targeted approach to treating Alzheimer’s disease.