Proteins offer brain diseases hope

A large collection of nerve proteins has been identified which sets the "centre stage" for around 130 brain diseases.

The discovery could lead to new treatments for disorders such as Alzheimer's and autism, such as multifunctional drugs which can treat more than one condition.

An Anglo-American team of scientists isolated the proteins after investigating synapses, neural connection points, in patients undergoing brain surgery.

In total 1,461 proteins, each encoded by a different gene, were found to be active in human synapses.

The proteins worked together to form a molecular machine known as the postsynaptic density, or PSD.

"We found that over 130 brain diseases involve the PSD - far more than expected," said Professor Seth Grant, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire.

"These diseases include common debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders, as well as epilepsies and childhood developmental diseases including forms of autism and learning disability.

"Our findings have shown that the human PSD is at centre stage of a large range of human diseases affecting many millions of people."

Every seventh "suspect" in the protein line-up is involved in a known clinical disorder, said the scientists, whose research is reported in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

"Over half of them are repeat offenders," said co-author Professor Jeffrey Noebels, from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.