Does REST Effect Alzheimer’s?

Posted by Mike McQuinn on April 1, 2014 | no comments

REST effects on Alzheimer's in the brian

Photo taken by: _DJ_ from Flickr

REST, an abbreviation for RE-1 silencing transcription, is actually a protein thought to only be produced in the brain before birth. It was previously believed to protect already immature neurons of a fetus allowing the brain of a newborn to handle the stress of birth, one of the most traumatic experiences a brain endures. After that event, REST was considered inactive because it existed at such low levels throughout life.

However, a recent study done by Harvard scientists was conducted under the hypothesis of Dr. Yankner: “in aging, as in birth, brains encounter great stress, threatening neurons that cannot regenerate if harmed”1. After analyzing all ages of brains donated to dementia studies, REST was detectable in older brains, but in Alzheimer’s patients the protein was critically low in the areas of the brain used for new learning, short-term memory, and complex planning.

What does this mean for seniors?

As humans get older other natural proteins inevitably cluster, creating amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles which, under normal conditions, are then used to transport other nutrients to different parts of the brain. If these swell up and/or collapse they compress and damage the neurons around them which will eventually kill them. The death of the neurons causes a chemical imbalance in the communication process and years later the deficits of Alzheimer’s form.

How does REST work?

REST works by traveling to the center of the neuron using the plaques and tangles to move around the brain. Once it has reached the neuron it deactivates the genes that cause cell death when stressed, therefore protecting all the areas of the brain. However, along the journey across the brain, the REST is infected and/or diverted in the majority of people. The infection kills the neurons instead of protecting them and the diversion causes the protein to die before it reaches the correct neuron allowing for the genes, caused by stress, to be damage or killed in the areas that we see affected by Alzheimer’s.

Where is the study going?

This is only the beginning of a complex study about what causes confusion and memory issues in some older people and not in others. However, this answers some questions and opens the way for more research into possible cures for Alzheimer’s. While some research has started using Lithium as a stimulant for REST, doctors caution that we should not rush into treatments or live studies until much more is discovered between the interaction of amyloid plaques and REST proteins.
As much as we would like to believe that rest is the answer to everything, could REST be the answer to Alzheimer’s?

Cited works:

Protein May Hold the Key to Who Gets Alzheimer’s – NY Times

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