UC Berkeley researchers receive grant to aid in Alzheimer’s research

From left to right: Ke Xu, Polina Lishko

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Two campus professors received a grant from the Pew Research Center’s Innovation Fund on Tuesday to research a potential link between sex steroid hormones and Alzheimer’s disease.

With the grant, Polina Lishko, Pew scholar and associate professor of cell and developmental biology, in collaboration with Ke Xu, Pew scholar and assistant professor of chemistry, will study the molecular mechanisms of aging and their correlation with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, according to Lishko.

Established in 2017, the Innovation Fund is an award granted to professional partnerships between alumni of Pew’s biomedical programs, according to the research center’s website.

“We are honored and immensely grateful to Pew Scholar Trust for this opportunity to continue our collaboration and enter the new challenging frontiers of our research,” Lishko said in an email.

According to Lishko, levels of sex steroid hormones, including estrogen, progesterone and androgens, decline as people age. These steroid hormones regulate the physiology of many tissues, including the choroid plexus.

The choroid plexus is a tissue responsible for the secretion of cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF, according to Lishko. CSF is a fluid that protects the brain, provides it with nutrients and removes waste. As people get older, the choroid plexus fails to produce enough CSF for the brain, Lishko said in the email.

This lack of adequate CSF to the brain may contribute to cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s.

According to Lishko, progesterone, a steroid hormone, is known to regulate homeostasis, or biological stability, in the choroid plexus. The molecular mechanism behind this homeostasis, however, remains unknown.

“Lishko and Xu labs have teamed up to understand the molecular basis of this phenomenon and to identify novel molecular targets that can potentially help in developing new therapies to treat neurodegenerative diseases,” Lishko said in the email. “This research project benefits from the expertise that both teams possess.”

Recent studies have found that at age 65, women have a 1-5 chance of developing Alzheimer’s compared to a 1-11 chance for men, according to Lishko.

As women age, their bodies produce less of the sex steroid hormones progesterone and estrogen, Lishko said in the email. There is also a correlation between early onset menopause, which involves a decline in sex steroid hormone levels, and increased susceptibility for Alzheimer’s.

“We hope that this project leads to developing new therapies to treat neurodegenerative diseases and a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of brain aging,” Lishko said in the email. “We are actively pursuing this project and hope to report and publish the result within the next year or two.”

Contact Blake Evans at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Blake_J_Evans.