Can leptin, the anti-obesity hormone, protect brain cells?

Research project: Investigations into the neuroprotective actions of leptin in tau-related synaptic dysfunction.

Lead Investigator: Dr Jenni Harvey

  • Institution: University of Dundee
  • Grant type: PhD Studentship
  • Duration: 36 months 
  • Amount: £85,000

Why did we fund this research?

Comments from our Research Network volunteers:

'I think this is an important new area. I have read a lot around diet and know that this has had a big impact on my mum. I would be very keen to sponsor this so that we can find out more.'

Project summary

Researchers believe the build up of proteins amyloid and tau damage the brain cells of people with Alzheimer's disease. Dr Harvey aims to understand more about whether the anti-obesity hormone, leptin could help to protect against this damage. 

The background

The connections between our brain cells, known as synapses, are essential to our thinking and behaviour. In Alzheimer’s disease these connections between brain cells are lost and this is thought to lead to memory loss and ultimately dementia. Researchers believe this is due to the build-up of toxic forms of two proteins, amyloid and tau. 

Recent research has suggested that people with Alzheimer’s disease have low levels of the anti-obesity hormone, leptin. Dr Harvey’s research has shown that leptin might help to prevent damage caused by the amyloid protein. However there is also abnormal build-up of a protein called tau in Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr Harvey doesn’t yet know whether leptin might also protect against unwanted changes caused by the tau protein.

What does this project involve?

The research team will be using a number of cell and mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease that replicate the build-up of tau proteins seen in people with the condition. 

They aim to understand whether leptin protects brain cells from damaged caused by the build-up of tau that interrupts communication between the cells.

How will this project help people with dementia?

We know more about dementia today than ever before. However we still have no treatment that can slow down or stop the progression of the condition.

This study will help us to understand more about the role of tau in Alzheimer’s disease and tell us more about the potential of leptin as a new treatment.