Employing the GPR39 Receptor to Restore Brain Health
2022 Vinney Scholar
Vascular dementia affects about one-third of people over age 80, diminishing their thought processes and rendering them increasingly confused and helpless. With the assistance of Harrington Discovery Institute, researchers are validating a target receptor in the brain for a novel drug to detect, treat, and possibly, reverse this condition.
Dr. Nabil Alkayed is investigating the role of a vascular receptor in the brain called G protein–coupled receptor (GPR39). This receptor could be a key to preventing impaired function of microvessels, especially capillaries, tiny blood vessels less than one-tenth the diameter of a human hair that keep the brain healthy and functioning.
“The longer humans live, the more we will see vascular dementia. While the reason remains unknown, poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle choices accelerate and worsen the disease,” Dr. Alkayed explains. “What is actually vascular dementia is often called Alzheimer's disease, a separate neurological condition. Frequently, cognitive impairment is caused by a combination of the two.” Memory experiments in mice fed a high fat diet will determine whether GPR39 improves recall by way of a mechanism that activates the receptor for protective factors called epoxyeicosatrienoates (EETs). Initial mouse memory testing yielded exciting discoveries: increasing EETs by preventing their breakdown reversed memory loss and blocking EETs action by deleting GPR39 worsened memory loss.
“With neural degeneration, brain cells die and that's it,” Dr. Alkayed notes. “In vascular dementia, the microvessels do not function properly. By restoring health to this vascular system, there's hope for preventing and reversing dementia. Our work with Harrington will validate the role of GPR39 for doing that.”