Clinical & Translational Neuroscience Section
Although rapid strides have been made in understanding the basic biology of Alzheimer's disease (AD), this knowledge has not been translated into earlier diagnosis and/or effective treatments for patients. The overarching goal of research in the Clinical and Translational Neuroscience Section (CTNS) is to comprehensively study the biologic basis of AD pathogenesis in humans. We first identify critical perturbations in both central and systemic metabolism in the early stages of disease progression and pinpoint the principal regulators of key metabolic/signaling pathways that may present plausible targets for disease modification.
Second, we use large real-world clinical datasets to test whether pharmacological manipulations of these metabolic pathways alter the risk of AD.
To achieve these goals, we use several approaches including:
- Applying mass spectrometry-based metabolomics and proteomics in combination with transcriptomics for understanding biological mechanisms related to AD pathogenesis
- Using a systems-level approach integrating data from multi-OMICs methods, neuroimaging, and epidemiology to identify plausible drug targets in AD.
- Validating plausible drug candidates through analyses of large real world clinical datasets in initiatives such as the Drug Repurposing for Effective Alzheimer’s Medicines (DREAM)
- Testing candidate AD drugs through experimental validation in cell culture based phenotypic screens as well as transgenic models
Details of Recent Studies
- Is Alzheimer's Risk Lower With TNF Inhibitors? For arthritis patients with cardiovascular disease, the answer may be yes
- NIA Study Identifies FDA Approved Drugs May Also be Helpful for Dementia
- Young ApoE4 Carriers Have Reversed AD Proteomic Signature
- Abnormal cholesterol metabolism linked to dementia risk
- Evidence for brain glucose dysregulation in Alzheimer’s disease
- Polyamines–What role in neurodegeneration?
- Large-scale proteomic studies implicate abnormal brain metabolism in Alzheimer’s disease
From Mechanisms to Medicines: Realizing the DREAM of an Alzheimer’s Cure
Our ongoing ‘OMICS’ studies have identified numerous biochemical pathways that are abnormal in AD including glucose breakdown, fatty acid synthesis and phospholipid metabolism. We have identified several FDA-approved drugs prescribed for non-AD indications that may also target these abnormal pathways. We now propose to test whether prior exposure to these drugs results in protection against AD/dementia in large real-world prescription datasets. This project is called the DREAM (Drug Repurposing for Effective Alzheimer’s Medicines) Study and will test exposures to approximately 20 drugs that we have nominated as ‘candidate AD treatments.’ We will perform these analyses in multiple large prescription datasets from the US (Centers for Medicare Services) and UK (Clinical Practice Research Datalink), which together represent more than 20 million older individuals. This is a unique study that will combine deep molecular phenotyping (i.e. ‘OMICS’ studies in brain/blood) with big-data analyses of patient-derived health record data to identify novel drug repurposing opportunities in AD. We expect that signals indicating a protective effect against AD with one or more drugs will be provide a sound rationale for subsequent confirmation in randomized clinical trials (RCTs).
Please click here for a Video Abstract of the DREAM Study on NIA’s Youtube page:
- Mechanisms of Alzheimer's disease pathogenesis
- Multi-OMICs approaches to identify biologically relevant biomarkers of Alzheimer's disease
- Systems-level approaches integrating multi-OMICs, neuroimaging and epidemiology to identify plausible drug targets in AD
Key Recent Publications
- Comparative risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia among Medicare beneficiaries with rheumatoid arthritis treated with targeted disease modifying antirheumatic agents Desai RJ, Varma V, Gerhard T, Segal J, Mahesri M, Chin K, Horton DM, Kim SC, Schneeweiss S, Thambisetty M. JAMA Network Open (2022) PMCID: PMC8994126
- A brain proteomic signature of incipient Alzheimer's disease in young APOE ε4 carriers identifies novel drug targets. Roberts JA, Varma VR, An Y, Varma S, Candia J, Fantoni G, Tiwari V, Anerillas C, Williamson A, Saito A, Loeffler T, Schilcher I, Moaddel R, Khadeer M, Lovett J, Tanaka T, Pletnikova O, Troncoso JC, Bennett DA, Albert MS, Yu K, Niu M, Haroutunian V, Zhang B, Peng J, Croteau DL, Resnick SM, Gorospe M, Bohr VA, Ferrucci L, Thambisetty M. Sci Adv. 2021 Nov 12;7(46):eabi8178. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abi8178. Epub 2021 Nov 10.PMID: 34757788
- Abnormal brain cholesterol homeostasis in Alzheimer's disease-a targeted metabolomic and transcriptomic study. Varma VR, Büşra Lüleci H, Oommen AM, Varma S, Blackshear CT, Griswold ME, An Y, Roberts JA, O'Brien R, Pletnikova O, Troncoso JC, Bennett DA, Çakır T, Legido-Quigley C, Thambisetty M. NPJ Aging Mech Dis. 2021 Jun 1;7(1):11. doi: 10.1038/s41514-021-00064-9.PMID: 34075056
- Bile acid synthesis, modulation, and dementia: A metabolomic, transcriptomic, and pharmacoepidemiologic study. Varma VR, Wang Y, An Y, Varma S, Bilgel M, Doshi J, Legido-Quigley C, Delgado JC, Oommen AM, Roberts JA, Wong DF, Davatzikos C, Resnick SM, Troncoso JC, Pletnikova O, O'Brien R, Hak E, Baak BN, Pfeiffer R, Baloni P, Mohmoudiandehkordi S, Nho K, Kaddurah-Daouk R, Bennett DA, Gadalla SM, Thambisetty M. PLoS Med. 2021 May 27;18(5):e1003615. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003615. eCollection 2021 May.PMID: 34043628
- Targeting abnormal metabolism in Alzheimer's disease: The Drug Repurposing for Effective Alzheimer's Medicines (DREAM) study. Desai RJ, Varma VR, Gerhard T, Segal J, Mahesri M, Chin K, Nonnenmacher E, Gabbeta A, Mammen AM, Varma S, Horton DB, Kim SC, Schneeweiss S, Thambisetty M. Alzheimers Dement (N Y). 2020 Nov 26;6(1):e12095. doi: 10.1002/trc2.12095. eCollection 2020.PMID: 33304987
- Dysregulation of multiple metabolic networks related to brain transmethylation and polyamine pathways in Alzheimer disease: A targeted metabolomic and transcriptomic study. Mahajan UV, Varma VR, Griswold ME, Blackshear CT, An Y, Oommen AM, Varma S, Troncoso JC, Pletnikova O, O'Brien R, Hohman TJ, Legido-Quigley C, Thambisetty M. PLoS Med. 2020 Jan 24;17(1):e1003012. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003012. eCollection 2020 Jan.PMID: 31978055
A full list of Publications is available here:
Awards & Recognition
In a significant recognition of our work, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) awards the 2016 Norman Geschwind Prize in Behavioral Neurology to Dr. Madhav Thambisetty. The Geschwind prize is given in recognition of outstanding research contributions to the field of behavioral neurology and is named in honor of Dr. Norman Geschwind, the father of modern Behavioral Neurology.
Public outreach and lectures of general interest
From Mechanisms to Medicines: Realizing the DREAM of an Alzheimer’s Cure
NIH Director’s seminar series https://videocast.nih.gov/watch=38520
Why are study partners important in Alzheimer’s disease clinical trials?
Video produced by the NIA Office of Communication and Public Liaison. Courtesy: Stephanie Dailey and Margaret Vaughn (OCPL; NIA; NIH)
Adiposity and insulin resistance in Alzheimer’s disease: when state meets trait Neurology Grand Rounds, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, May 2014
Medicine for the Public Lecture
Since 1977, NIH researchers have educated the public about biomedical research through yearly "Medicine for the Public" programs. This unique forum, hosted by the NIH Clinical Center, engaged NIH scientists to present state-of-the art research in lay language to the public. Attendees had the singular opportunity not only to learn about basic research from those who did it, but also to understand how that research could diagnose, treat, and prevent disease - and ultimately, preserve health. In this way, Medicine for the Public has contributed to the NIH Clear Communication Initiative, which seeks to improve the nation's health literacy.
- Alzheimer’s clinical trials have a recruitment problem. Telehealth platform Ro thinks it can help
- Some arthritis drugs may reduce Alzheimer’s and related dementias risk in those with heart disease
- Repurposed cancer treatments could be potential Alzheimer’s drugs
- Video press release by the NIA on our work in Molecular Psychiatry (Midlife Adiposity predicts earlier onset of Alzheimer’s dementia, neuropathology and presymptomatic cerebral amyloid accumulation).
- Links to some press coverage of our results reporting associations between midlife BMI and AD onset in Molecular Psychiatry:
- Excess Weight at Age 50 Linked to Early Alzheimers Onset
- Weight at Age 50 Connected to When a Person Gets Alzheimer's
- Midlife Weight Alzheimers
- BMI Predicts How Soon Alzheimers Will Develop
- Interview on the BBC World Service on our finding that clusterin is a blood biomarker of Alzheimer’s disease
- Medscape story on our finding that plasma apoE concentration is related to extent of brain amyloid deposition
- Medscape story on our finding that the CR1 risk variant gene is associated with lower brain amyloid deposition in non-demented older individuals
- ScienceDaily story on our findings reporting a lack of association between peripheral insulin resistance and Alzheimer’s neuropathology
- Discover magazine story highlighting our CR1 results as one of the top 100 scientific discoveries of 2013 (PDF, 629K)
- News Story & Video Report on our findings published in Molecular Psychiatry on the obesity gene FTO and its effects on adiposity, brain function, impulsivity and diet during aging
Blood, brain metabolites could be earlier biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease
NIA Featured Research highlight on our recent publication in PLoS MEDICINE Brain and blood metabolite signatures of pathology and progression in Alzheimer disease: A targeted metabolomics study.
- In the Pipeline-Alzheimer's Disease: New Evidence for Brain Glucose Dysregulation in Alzheimer's Disease. Abnormalities Evident Years Before Clinical Symptoms. Commentary in NEUROLOGY TODAY
- Nature Reviews Neurology on our finding that alpha2 macroglobulin (A2M) may be a sex-specific marker of neuronal injury in AD (PDF, 557K)
- BRAIN PUZZLE Nature Medicine on our finding that the CR1 risk variant gene is associated with lower brain amyloid deposition in non-demented older individuals (PDF, 529K)
- CR1 and the “Vanishing Amyloid” Hypothesis of Alzheimer's Disease (link to paper). See also: commentary in Biological Psychiatry (PDF, 860K).