Scientists identify ‘microprotein’ in the brain that puts a person at a ‘substantial’ risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life

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  • Researchers at the University of Southern California analyzed areas of the data
  • They found that the microprotein SHMOOSE was associated with a 20 to 50% higher risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
  • It is involved in energy production in cells, scientists said
  • He said that if the results of the study are supported, it could open the door to more treatments to help combat the disease.

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A ‘microprotein’ linked to a ‘microprotein’ significantly increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in later life, scientists say – a quarter of people of European ancestry already have the change.

Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles analyzed data from more than 8,000 people and found that when a protein called SHMOOSE was inactivated it led to a 20 to 50 percent higher risk of the condition.


Alzheimer’s disease is believed to be caused by an abnormal buildup of proteins in the brain, although what causes this is not clear. Being older, having a family history of the disease and having a sedentary lifestyle increases this risk.

The scientists leading the paper say their study could ‘open the door’ to new treatments to combat the disease.

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The above shows differences in cognition between people who did not have the mutated microprotein (black line) and those who did (red line), according to a model the scientists used their results to.

What is a ‘microprotein’?

A microprotein is a very small protein that is used to help build others that perform a variety of functions – including energy production.

Prior research has focused on only about 20,000 proteins.

But now scientists are looking at hundreds of thousands of microproteins to find the causes of diseases, including Alzheimer’s.


About 6 million Americans have Alzheimer’s and this figure is expected to double to about 13 million in the next 25 years Alzheimer’s Association it is said.

Previously, scientists have focused on about 20,000 standard-sized proteins to find out what might cause disease.

But now they are looking at hundreds of thousands of microproteins – much smaller versions – that could also have an effect.

In the study published today in the journal molecular psychiatryScientists combed through the genetic data of more than 8,000 people to establish whether any were linked to Alzheimer’s.

They found that mutations in one gene inactivated the protein SHMOOSE, which increased the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

It also increased the risk of brain atrophy, the model suggested.

It was unclear why this happened, but the protein is involved in energy production in the mitochondria.

In their paper, the scientists suggested that the proteins may cause cells to suffer an energy deficit – putting them at increased risk of damage, reducing the protective coating around nerve cells.

Dr Pinchas Cohen, a USC aging specialist involved in the study, said: ‘This discovery opens up exciting new directions for developing precision medicine-based treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

‘Administration of SHMOOSE analogs in individuals carrying mutations … may prove to be of benefit in neurodegenerative and other diseases of aging.’

It is the first microprotein that has been linked to such a high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Several genes have previously been linked to Alzheimer’s, but they were all found to increase the risk by less than 10 percent.

The strongest link has been found in the gene APOE4, with up to 60 percent of people whose two copies are determined to develop the disease later in life.

It is possible that other microproteins are also involved in Alzheimer’s disease, but the study looked at only a few because of the cost.

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain in which nerve cells die from a buildup of abnormal proteins.

This disrupts the transmitters that carry messages, and causes the brain to shrink.

More than 5 million people suffer from the disease in the US, where it is the 6th leading cause of death, and more than 1 million Britons have the disease.

what happens?

As brain cells die, the functions they provide are lost.

This includes memory, orientation and the ability to think and reason.

The progression of the disease is slow and gradual.

On average, patients live five to seven years after diagnosis, but some may live as long as ten to 15 years.

Initial symptoms:

  • loss of short term memory
  • disorientation
  • behavior change
  • mood swings
  • Difficulties with money transactions or making phone calls

Later symptoms:

  • severe memory loss, forgetting close family members, familiar objects or places
  • becoming anxious and frustrated at an inability to understand the world, leading to aggressive behavior
  • eventually lose the ability to walk
  • may have trouble eating
  • The majority will eventually require 24-hour care

Source: Alzheimer’s Association


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