Certain genetic processes of neurodegeneration, as seen in dementia, have been identified by a research team led by UCLA scientists. Two major groups of genes which create over-productions of the tau protein, which is integral to loss of neurons seen in major dementia forms, were found using mouse models of dementia, although the researchers performed additional experiments which determined the same processes occur in human brains.

Systems biology was used to identify genetic processes in a mutation which causes tau overproduction in frontotemporal dementia. A similar type of overproduction is also integral to Alzheimer’s disease and supranuclear palsy, which affects movement and cognition.

They theorised that one of the reasons why research with mouse models of dementia often don’t produce translatable results is that mouse studies rely on one inbred strain. Instead, they studied the mutation caused by frontotemporal dementia in three genetically-different mouse strains, focusing on genetic activity occurring in different parts of and points of time in a degenerating brain.

Using this information, the research team searched a database of the genetic effects of experimental drugs to find those which could change this loss of neurons.

Senior author Dr. Daniel Geschwind, professor of neurology and psychiatry at UCLA, said that the study was the most comprehensive yet to find the source of neurodegeneration, but said work still remained: “There is still a significant amount of work that needs to be done to develop drugs that could be effectively used in humans against these targets, but this is an encouraging step.”