University of North Dakota Faculty/Staff Newsletter

Scientists receive $1.4 million from NIH to study obesity–Alzheimer’s link

Obesity, particularly in mid-life, is an increased risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease. Although the exact cause is unknown, two UND scientists’ effort to identify the underlying mechanisms involved has been awarded $1.4 million from the National Institutes of Health.

Colin K. Combs, associate professor, and Mikhail Y. Golovko, assistant professor, in the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Therapeutics at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, will try to determine whether the relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and obesity is not simply correlated but instead a shared pathophysiology.

“Alzheimer's disease is estimated to affect over 5 million Americans,” Combs said. “Obesity, which is at an epidemic level, also represents a tremendous health concern in the United States. So any strategy to ameliorate either or both conditions is extremely attractive therapeutically.”

Combs and Golovko’s targets of interest are molecules of APP (amyloid precursor protein), proteins that are responsible for the flow of materials into and out of not only adipose (fat) cells but brain cells as well. APP is a freight-handling molecule that serves to transport substances through the cell membrane. Combs and Golovko have been able to demonstrate that a high-fat diet in mice stimulates an increase in APP, and higher levels of APP in the brain correlate with increased evidence of cell damage and inflammation, both of which are consistent to some degree with what is observed during Alzheimer's disease.

“In this study, we will use a variety of genetically modified mice models to specifically determine how APP regulates not only the changes that occur in the brain but also in adipose tissue and the immune system during obesity and Alzheimer’s disease,” Combs said. “With this broad approach we hope to identify a common target for intervening in both disease processes.”

The National Institutes of Health is the nation's medical research center and is the largest source of funding for medical research in the world. Combs and Golovko’s grant brings to $6.85 million that the NIH has awarded to biomedical researchers in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Therapeutics in the past month.

-- Denis MacLeod, assistant director, Office of Alumni and Community Relations, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, 777-2733,

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