Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most insidious conditions that a person can be afflicted with, but a new study showing a link between Alzheimer’s and gum disease brings us closer to finding the cause and, hopefully, a cure.
Links to the Bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis
Porphyromonas gingivalis (P. gingivalis) is a bacteria in the mouth responsible for chronic periodontitis and it has been suspected of having a role in Alzheimer’s disease. New research, however, strengthens that link significantly.
"Infectious agents have been implicated in the development and progression of Alzheimer's disease before, but the evidence of causation hasn't been convincing," said Stephen Dominy, M.D.
The study, appearing in the journal Science Advances and conducted by Dominy and Casey Lynch, the founders of the pharmaceutical company Cortexyme, discovered P. gingivalis in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients and may have found a way to block the pathogen, offering hope for a potential treatment option.
P. gingivalis Invades the Brain
During the study, researchers looked at mice who were infected with P. gingivalis and found that this infection eventually moved into the brain. They found a corresponding increase in the levels of amyloid beta, an important part of the plaques that kill the brain’s neurons, a defining characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
Another result of the bacterial infections is the presence of harmful enzymes that P. gingivalis secretes, called gingipains, in the neurons of the patients with Alzheimer’s disease. These gingipains directly correlated with the levels of tau, the protein necessary for proper neuron function, and ubiquitin, a protein tag that indicates a damaged protein for the body to disintegrate and is present in amyloid-beta plaques.
Hopes for New Preventative Treatments
"Despite significant funding and the best efforts of academic, industry, and advocacy communities, clinical progress against Alzheimer's has been frustratingly slow," said Lynch, but highlights that the study, "details the promising therapeutic approach Cortexyme is taking to address it with COR388."
The study shows how the Cortexyme-developed COR388 is able to disrupt the gingipains of P. gingivalis which helped reduce inflammation, reduce or eliminate amyloid beta in the brain, and perhaps most importantly, preserve the neurons of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and that usually deteriorates over time as Alzheimer's disease progresses.
"Now, for the first time," Dominy said, "we have solid evidence connecting the intracellular, Gram-negative pathogen, [P. gingivalis], and Alzheimer's pathogenesis while also demonstrating the potential for a class of small molecule therapies to change the trajectory of disease."
Cortexyme has plans to move on to phase 2 and phase 3 trials, but that may be some years in the future, so for now, the best thing you can do to prevent Alzheimer's disease is to ensure proper oral health and prevent the development of chronic periodontitis.