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Low levels of BRCA1 protein in brain linked to Alzheimer’s disease

December 8, 2015
by Nicole Stempak, Associate Editor
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Lower levels of BRCA1 proteins in neurons can be found in people with Alzheimer’s disease, according to research in the journal Nature Communications.

“BRCA1 has so far been studied primarily in dividing (multiplying) cells and in cancer, which is characterized by abnormal increases in cell numbers,” says Elsa Suberbielle, lead author and a research scientist at the Gladstone Institutes, in a news release. “We were therefore surprised to find that it also plays important roles in neurons, which don’t divide, and in a neurodegenerative disorder that is characterized by a loss of these brain cells.”

The BRCA1 gene produces proteins that help repair a type of DNA damage known as double-strand breaks when dividing cells are injured. Unlike other cells, neurons breaks can happen under normal circumstances, such as after increased brain activity. Researchers think cycles of DNA damage and repair in brain cells help to facilitate normal learning and memory, suggesting an imbalance in BRCA1 levels interferes with normal brain functions. Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders are associated with excess damage to neuronal DNA.

BRCA1 plays a role in many different body functions. Mutations of the gene have been studied as a genetic risk factor for breast and ovarian cancer. Researchers do not suggest an association between the risk of developing cancer and dementia.

Read the study here.

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