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The researchers tested mice brains for the secret behind brain cell death.  (Source: Recognizing Deven)

The researchers found an important culprit in the cause of brain cell death -- a tumor killing preventing enzyme surpress AKT (pictured here), a critical protein to cell survival.  (Source: The Institute of Cancer Research)
Nature's kill switch seems to activate for some brain cells but not others, according to researchers

Preventing and reversing memory loss is a key field of research in the area of prolonging human life spans.  While humans are living much longer than they once did, many suffer from debilitating conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, which limit their quality of life during their later years.

Scientists at the University of Florida may have gained a significant insight into understanding what causes some brain cells to die, triggering these diseases, while others cells remain alive.  The studies, performed on mice examined two neighboring regions in the hippocampus; an anatomical region shaped something like a curved kidney bean.  The region is thought to be central to the formation of memories, and is one of the first regions affected by brain blood flow problems or Alzheimer's.

What researchers discovered was that the higher susceptibility to cell death in part of the hippocampus versus the other region was due to the enzyme PHLPP, pronounced "flip", silences the transcription of a gene that produces a critical protein to cell survival, AKT.  AKT inhibits many causes of cell death.  The inactivation in essence, amounts to the cell flipping its own kill switch.

Thomas C. Foster, Ph.D., the Evelyn F. McKnight chair for research on aging and memory at UF describes, "The question is why does one set of brain cells live and another set die when they are only millimeters apart in the same small brain structure?  We looked at an important signaling pathway that tells cells to stay alive or die, and the enzymes that regulate that pathway. Implicated in all this is a new protein that before a couple of years ago no one actually knew much about."

The conclusions were drawn by first finding AKT levels to be a key chemical difference between the living and dying cells.  From there, the cause of the AKT shortage was traced to high levels of the enzyme PHLPP1, the mouse version of PHLPP, an enzyme found in other mammals.  Ironically, the recently discovered enzyme suppresses tumors in many cases.  The compound was discovered by Alexandra Newton, Ph.D., a professor of pharmacology at the University of California, San Diego.

Professor Newton comments on the new research, stating, "Basically, PHLPP is important in controlling whether cells survive and proliferate or die.  If you want cells to survive brain disease, diabetes or heart disease, you want active AKT signaling and therefore low PHLPP. But if you want to stop cells that have the 'go' signal, like cancer cells, PHLPP can function as a brake. In this case, it appears as if there is an area in the hippocampus that is easily stressed and might undergo ischemia easily, because PHLPP is not allowing the AKT survival mechanism to work."

According to Professor Foster, the breakthrough could lead to new drugs to combat memory loss and brain damage.  He states, "Possibly, we have found a target that could be manipulated with drugs so that these brain cells can be saved from threats.  If one area of the hippocampus has a deficiency in cell-survival signaling, it is possible to find a way to ramp up the AKT protein. The caveat is, there are studies that show over-activating AKT may not be good for memory — AKT may be naturally lower in this region for an important reason. But in times of intense damage, there may be a therapeutic window to upregulate AKT and get some benefit to health."

It is still unknown why some regions of the brain flip the switch to trigger cell death, while others, which appear equally vulnerable to tumor formation, do not.

The research is published online in the Nature publication Cell Death & Differentiation.  

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RE: Hope
By icanhascpu on 12/12/2008 10:56:18 AM , Rating: 5
Nothing wrong with humor if its tasteful, and that wasnt without some taste.

Life in general is pretty horrible without humor for any hopeless/near hopless situation.

RE: Hope
By maverick85wd on 12/12/2008 3:54:54 PM , Rating: 3
Agree fully.
My Grandmother keeps joking to me about getting old and gaining the ability to hide her own Easter eggs, and how she's excited to meet new people every day. It's become somewhat of an inside joke, but the point is that if you don't laugh while you can, that part of your life you decided to deny yourself a little joy has just been wasted. Kinda like one of my favorite quotes, "Every sixty seconds spent mad is a minute of happiness you will never get back"

RE: Hope
By menace on 12/12/2008 4:12:24 PM , Rating: 3
Oh give me a break, you folks are being way too sensitive.

I have poor short term memory and it seems to get worse every year. The same is true for many people as they age. I always walk out the door empty handed even when I tell myself "Don't forge to bring X" just two minutes earlier. I do wish there was a magic drug to fix that. That is the spirit the joke was intended. It is just an exaggeration of that common situation. I think the rating reflects that most people get it.

I had an aunt who had Alzheimers and I know that is nothing to joke about.

RE: Hope
By maverick85wd on 12/12/2008 5:02:58 PM , Rating: 2
you folks are being way too sensitive.

I had an aunt who had Alzheimers and I know that is nothing to joke about.

contradict much?

My point is that you can't take life too seriously. My Grandma jokes about memory loss, and I think it's hillarious.

RE: Hope
By JonnyDough on 12/12/2008 10:28:04 PM , Rating: 5
Dude, the guy forgot his original point. Leave him alone. He's got memory loss!

For those of you who don't know the difference: Please note that I didn't say he has memory LOSE, or memory LOOSE as that would just crazy.

RE: Hope
By Ytsejamer1 on 12/15/2008 9:27:32 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah peeps...get a sense of humor. My grandmother has been battling Alzheimer's Disease for the last five years. It's been a slow decline and a heartbreaking one for our family. She's days away from passing. I almost welcome it at this point because it's definitely no way to live. But I can appreciate humor as well. If you can't, that's fine...but people that DO use humor to keep their spirits up or whatever are good too!

With that, I leave you all with my favorite Alzheimer's joke.

Q: What's ONE good thing about having Alheimer's?

A: You can hide your own easter eggs! :-)

"I mean, if you wanna break down someone's door, why don't you start with AT&T, for God sakes? They make your amazing phone unusable as a phone!" -- Jon Stewart on Apple and the iPhone
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