A team of researchers at Boston University School of Medicine have identified a new drug target for Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis. They discovered the importance of a protein called Klotho which helps maintain healthy myelin - an insulating material allowing communication between nerve cells.

As people begin to age the levels of Klotho in the brain also begin to decrease. They published their findings online in Journal of Neuroscience.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition in which the myelin inside the brain and spinal cord becomes damaged, causing demyelination. This can cause the nerve cells in the brain to communicate inefficiently; this can lead to serious physical and cognitive disability.

Signs and symptoms of MS usually begin to appear in young adults; it is more prevalent among women.

The earliest signs of MS begin when the immune system attacks the protective myelin. The researchers found that the Klotho protein is able to produce the necessary proteins vital for the production and maintenance of a healthy myelin, which could reverse the damage caused by MS.

In an abstract in the journal authors said:

"Predominantly generated in brain and kidney, Klotho overexpression extends life span, whereas loss of Klotho accelerates the development of aging-like phenotypes. Although the function of Klotho in brain is unknown, loss of Klotho expression leads to cognitive deficits.

We found significant effects of Klotho on oligodendrocyte functions, including induced maturation of rat primary oligodendrocytic progenitor cells (OPCs) in vitro and myelination."

Lead author, Carmela Abraham, PhD, added: "These results taken together indicate that Klotho could become a drug target for multiple sclerosis and other white matter diseases, including AD."

The team discovered and are currently working on a series of small molecules that could be the basis for the future development of drugs that would work by increasing the amount of the Klotho protein in the brain.

Previous research has indicated that Klotho may indeed be able to treat some other very hard-to-treat human diseases. The protein has been found to not only have anti-aging properties, but also the characteristics of a tumor suppressor. A recent study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry revealed that the Klotho protein can protect kidneys against the development of renal fibrosis and cancer growth.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist