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Biological Chemistry

New Target For Treating Alzheimer’s

Lung cancer drugs restore memory loss in fruit flies and mice

by Elizabeth K. Wilson
October 1, 2012 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 90, ISSUE 40

Two drugs used to treat lung cancer can restore memory deficits associated with Alzheimer’s disease, scientists report (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1208011109). Yi Zhong of New York’s Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and China’s Tsinghua University and colleagues formed a hypothesis that the over­expression of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) on cell surfaces, which is linked to some lung cancers, may also be involved in Alzheimer’s pathology. The researchers tested the lung cancer drugs erlotinib and gefitinib, as well as 2,000 other promising compounds, on engineered fruit flies. The most effective compounds all inhibited overexpression of EGFR. They found that after treatment with the compounds, mice genetically engineered to develop excess amyloid-β protein—the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease—were able to once again perform tasks in behavioral studies that they had forgotten how to do. The team is still working to understand the relationship of EGFR to Alzheimer’s pathology, but they suggest amyloid-β may activate EGFR, triggering a cascade of biochemical processes that damage neurons.

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