Reversing the Early Signs of Alzheimer's

School of Medicine researchers restore sense of smell in lab tests.

One of the earliest signs of Alzheimer's disease has nothing to do with memory or cognition—it's the loss of the sense of smell. Now, researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have learned more about why the sense fails in Alzheimer's patients and have even restored smell in lab tests.

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"The evidence indicates we can use the sense of smell to determine if someone may get Alzheimer's disease, and use changes in the sense of smell to begin treatments, instead of waiting until someone has issues learning and remembering," says Daniel Wesson, a neuroscientist at Case Western Reserve and the study's lead investigator. "We can also use smell to see if therapies are working."

The scientists discovered that a plaque-forming protein called amyloid beta is behind the loss of smell. They restored the sense in mouse models by giving them a drug to remove the protein.

"Understanding smell loss, we think, will hold some clues about how to slow down this disease," Wesson says.

Wesson worked with Anne H. Borkowski, a researcher at the Nathan S. Kline Institute in Orangeburg, N.Y.; Gary E. Landreth, professor of neuroscience at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine; and Ralph A. Nixon, Efrat Levy and Donald A. Wilson of the New York University School of Medicine.

Their work appeared in the Nov. 2 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.