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New drug target found for Alzheimers

CHAMPAIGN, Ill., April 20 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they've identified a potential drug target for Alzheimer's disease -- a receptor embedded in the membrane of neurons and other cells.

The University of Illinois researchers led by Professors Kevin Xiang and Charles Cox said a protein fragment associated with Alzheimer's disease -- amyloid-beta protein -- activates a receptor called the AMPA receptor, increasing activity in the affected neurons and eventually leading to cell death.

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In the study, the researchers focused on the beta-2 adrenergic receptor, a protein that -- like the AMPA receptor -- resides in the cell membrane. Neurotransmitters and hormones normally activate the beta-2 adrenergic receptor, but amyloid-beta also induces a cascade of events in the neurons when it does so, the researchers found.

Cox said the receptor offers an attractive alternative target because amyloid-beta binds to a different part of the receptor than that normally engaged by neurotransmitters and hormones. That, said the scientists, means it might be possible to stop amyloid-beta from binding to it without hindering the other functions of the beta-2 adrenergic receptor.

Xiang and Cox said the beta-2 adrenergic receptor is almost certainly not the only important player in the damage that occurs in an Alzheimer's-afflicted brain. But they see it as a promising new potential target for future drug research.

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