BioFiles v7 n2


BioFiles Volume 7, Number 2 — Neurodegenerative Diseases

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Neurodegenerative DiseasesTable of Contents



Carolyn L. Crankshaw
Carolyn L.

Neurodegenerative diseases affect the central nervous system causing progressive nervous system dysfunction. These debilitating and incurable conditions are characterized by loss of neuronal cell function and are often associated with atrophy of the affected nervous system structures. An important subset of neurodegenerative disease concerns dementias associated with aging. Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common clinically recognized dementia in aging populations, and 43% of people 85 or older are thought to suffer from Alzheimer's in the United States. Parkinson's disease (PD), another common nervous system disorder associated with the elderly, affects 1-3% of the population over 60. United Nations population projections estimate a world population of 400 million people 80 years of age or older by the year 2050. Given the financial, societal and personal impact of the burden of these diseases, determining causes, prevention and treatment has become a major focus of basic and clinical research.

Study of the etiology of neurodegenerative diseases shows association with genetic factors to be variable within populations for one disease state. Even in the case of Huntington's disease (HD), which is linked to a specific gene, how mutant Huntingtin's protein effects downstream symptoms of the disorder, including dementia, is not fully understood. The molecular basis of the effects of genetic variation, lifestyle and environmental factors including trauma and infection involves multiple signaling pathways. Neuropathological hallmarks of dementia include β-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in AD, and Lewy body inclusions in PD. However, while protein aggregation clearly plays a role in neurodegenerative disease, there is evidence these are signatures of neuronal damage and additional causative elements remain to be discerned. The role of inflammation is an active area of investigation, as is the role of nitric oxide signaling. The effects of these and other key events on transcriptional regulation and initiation of apoptosis and neurotoxicity continues to be intensively explored.

This brochure highlights current understanding in the areas of Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease as representative of major research efforts to delineate key events in the development of neurodegenerative diseases. The associated products represent a broader set of tools offered to support basic research in neurodegenerative disease and in neuroscience.


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