The research is significant because drugs that are in the advanced developmental phase for other conditions might be able to be used on Alzheimer's patients, to halt the disease progressing. At present, there are only minimally effective treatments for the condition, which is increasing with the ageing population.
"We found that all of the brains of dementia patients showed quinolinic acid neurotoxicity," said Professor Bruce Brew, Director of Neurology at St Vincent's Hospital and Professor of Medicine at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). "This acid kills nerve cells in the brain, leading to brain dysfunction and ultimately death."
There are currently more than 200, 000 people with Alzheimer's disease in Australia. The number will exceed 730, 000 by 2050.
"Quinolinic acid is part of a biochemical pathway called the kynurenine pathway," said the lead author of the research, UNSW's Dr Gilles Guillemin, who is based at the Centre for Immunology at St Vincent's Hospital. "The activation of that pathway is also found in other major brain diseases including Huntington's disease, stroke, dementia and schizophrenia."
The paper Indoleamine 2, 3 dioxygenase and quinolinic acid Immunoreactivity in Alzheimer's disease hippocampus has been published this week in the leading international journal Neuropathology and Applied Neurobiology. It is the result of collaboration between researchers from St Vincent's Hospital, UNSW, the University of Sydney and Hokkaido University, Japan.
"There are several drugs which can block this pathway, which are already under investigation by our laboratory and others," said Dr Guillemin.
The drugs, which would need to be tested for efficacy, could be used to complement other treatments.
"Quinolinic acid may not be the cause of Alzheimer's disease, but it plays a key role in its progression," said Alzheimer's researcher, Dr Karen Cullen from the University of Sydney. "It's the smoking gun, if you like.
"While we won't be able to prevent people from getting Alzheimer's disease, we may eventually, with the use of drugs, be able to slow down the progression."
The other researchers are Claire Noonan from Sydney University and Osamu Takikawa from Hokkaido University, Japan.
Contact: Susi Hamilton, UNSW media unit, tel. +61 2 9385 1583 or +61 (0) 422 934 024; David Faktor, Public Affairs SV&MHS on +61 2 8382 2866 or +61 (0) 405 497 510