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Too Much Tom

Elevated Tom40 mitochondrial protein in Alzheimers patients modelled in fruit flies is associated with neurodegeneration

25 January 2023

Too Much Tom

Fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) share many of our genes, making them useful model organisms – scientists often draw lines between clues in the fly and human tissues. Here they study a bed of neurons in a fly’s retina (with its cells highlighted in blue). They modify the cells to make higher levels of a protein called Tom40 (red) and watch what happens next. In humans, a similar Tom protein is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but the link – the mechanism – is clouded by the activity of other genes and proteins. The simpler genetics of Drosophila provide a clearer picture – too much Tom destroys neurons by upsetting processes in the cells’ mitochondria, so much so that the cell triggers a form of self-destruct called apoptosis. The next step is examining the link between apoptosis and Alzheimer’s disease in human neurons with a view to developing therapies to keep Tom in check.

Written by John Ankers

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