Objective: The loss of cortical and hippocampal synapses is a universal hallmark of Alzheimer's disease, and probably underlies its effects on cognition. Synapses are formed from the interaction of neurites projecting from "presynaptic" neurons with dendritic spines projecting from "postsynaptic" neurons. Both of these structures are vulnerable to the toxic effects of nearby amyloid plaques, and their loss contributes to the decreased number of synapses that characterize the disease. A treatment that increased the formation of neurites and dendritic spines might reverse this loss, thereby increasing the number of synapses and slowing the decline in cognition.
Design setting, participants, intervention, measurements and results: We observe that giving normal rodents uridine and the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) orally can enhance dendritic spine levels (3), and cognitive functions (32). Moreover this treatment also increases levels of biochemical markers for neurites (i.e., neurofilament-M and neurofilament-70) (2) in vivo, and uridine alone increases both these markers and the outgrowth of visible neurites by cultured PC-12 cells (9). A phase 2 clinical trial, performed in Europe, is described briefly.
Discussion and conclusion: Uridine and DHA are circulating precursors for the phosphatides in synaptic membranes, and act in part by increasing the substrate-saturation of enzymes that synthesize phosphatidylcholine from CTP (formed from the uridine, via UTP) and from diacylglycerol species that contain DHA: the enzymes have poor affinities for these substrates, and thus are unsaturated with them, and only partially active, under basal conditions. The enhancement by uridine of neurite outgrowth is also mediated in part by UTP serving as a ligand for neuronal P2Y receptors. Moreover administration of uridine with DHA activates many brain genes, among them the gene for the m-1 metabotropic glutamate receptor [Cansev, et al, submitted]. This activation, in turn, increases brain levels of that gene's protein product and of such other synaptic proteins as PSD-95, synapsin-1, syntaxin-3 and F-actin, but not levels of non-synaptic brain proteins like beta-tubulin. Hence it is possible that giving uridine plus DHA triggers a neuronal program that, by accelerating phosphatide and synaptic protein synthesis, controls synaptogenesis. If administering this mix of phosphatide precursors also increases synaptic elements in brains of patients with Alzheimer 's disease, as it does in normal rodents, then this treatment may ameliorate some of the manifestations of the disease.