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Researchers have linked genes that can cause Alzheimer's disease to a process that causes cells to die.

In the latest issue of the journal Science, scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital in Charlestown and the KwangJu Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea report on new studies of two genes associated with hereditary forms of the disease. Abnormalities, or mutations, in the genes PS1 and PS2 cause people to develop Alzheimer's disease, usually before age 65.

Previous studies have suggested that death of cells in the brain occurs during Alzheimer's disease, but researchers still aren't sure how much that cell death contributes to the disease. The cells die through a process known as apoptosis, also called programmed cell death. This process occurs normally in many parts of the body to get rid of unwanted cells. But scientists suspect that in Alzheimer's disease, the process happens even when it shouldn't.

In the new study, the researchers found that two proteins, each a product of one of the genes, are abnormally clipped in two during the cell death process. That could mean, the researchers wrote, that the clipping of the proteins helps kill cells. The scientists also found that the protein produced by a mutant PS2 gene was even more likely to be clipped abnormally.

-- Dallas Morning News