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New discovery closes in on genetic link between Alzheimer's and diabetes

A new spin to our understanding of the relationship between Alzheimer's disease and diabetes, which could point to a therapeutic target for both diseases, is published in a research report in the June 2012 issue of the journal Genetics.

In the report, scientists from City College of New York-City University of New York (CCNY-CUNY) show that a gene in the worm Caenorhabditis elegans, which is similar to a human gene correlated with Alzheimer's disease, is involved in multiple metabolic pathways, including the insulin pathway.

"Mutations in three genes, including the amyloid precursor protein (APP) gene, have been correlated with the inherited form of Alzheimer's disease in humans," said Chris Li, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Department of Biology at CCNY-CUNY. "Because the equivalent gene we're studying in the model organism C. elegans is involved in many metabolic pathways, it suggests that the human version of the gene likely also plays a role -- not only in Alzheimer's disease, but in diabetes as well," Li added.

To make this discovery, these investigators studied worms with mutations in the Alzheimer's-related gene (APL-1) along with mutations in genes in the insulin pathway, and found that the Alzheimer's-related gene influenced metabolic pathways during the worms' development. They also found that, while mutations in the Alzheimer's-like gene caused severe disruptions in the worm's development, certain compensatory mutations in the insulin pathway reversed those defects. This discovery is important because it helps explain how these genes are functionally linked in a common pathway, and gives a possible explanation for the apparent link between Alzheimer's and diabetes in humans. Scientists hope that this new insight will help focus research in ways that might lead to new therapies in the treatment of both Alzheimer's disease and diabetes.

"This is an important discovery, especially as it comes on the heels of the U.S. government's new commitment to treat and prevent Alzheimer's disease by 2025," said Mark Johnston, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief of Genetics. "We know there's a link between Alzheimer's and diabetes, but until now, it was somewhat of a mystery. This finding could open new doors for treating and preventing both diseases."

CITATION: C. Y. Ewald, D. A. Raps, and C. Li. APL-1, the Alzheimer's Amyloid Precursor Protein in Caenorhabditis elegans, Modulates Multiple Metabolic Pathways Throughout Development

Genetics June 2012 Volume 191, Issue 2.

ABOUT GENETICS: Since 1916, Genetics has covered high quality, original research on a range of topics bearing on inheritance, including population and evolutionary genetics, complex traits, developmental and behavioral genetics, cellular genetics, gene expression, genome integrity and transmission, and genome and systems biology. Genetics, a peer-reviewed, peer-edited journal of the Genetics Society of America is one of the world's most cited journals in genetics and heredity.

ABOUT GSA: Founded in 1931, the Genetics Society of America (GSA) is the professional membership organization for scientific researchers, educators, bioengineers, bioinformaticians and others interested in the field of genetics. Its nearly 5,000 members work to advance knowledge in the basic mechanisms of inheritance, from the molecular to the population level. The GSA is dedicated to promoting research in genetics and to facilitating communication among geneticists worldwide through its conferences, including the biennial conference on Model Organisms to Human Biology, an interdisciplinary meeting on current and cutting edge topics in genetics research, as well as annual and biennial meetings that focus on the genetics of particular organisms, including C. elegans, Drosophila, fungi, mice, yeast, and zebrafish. GSA publishes Genetics, a leading journal in the field and an online, open-access journal, G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics. For more information about GSA, please visit Also follow GSA on Facebook at and on Twitter @GeneticsGSA.

Phyllis Edelman | EurekAlert!
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