Scientists at Edinburgh University say they have identified a key stage in the progress of degenerative brain conditions.
The research could pave the way for groundbreaking new treatments for currently incurable diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.
Scientists know that degenerative conditions are caused by connection points in the brain, known as synapses, ceasing to function, but until now it has been unclear what triggers it.
The team at the University of Edinburgh identified six proteins that control the process.
They now hope to carry out further research to develop drugs that will target the proteins and slow down or even halt the spread of disease.
Dr Thomas Wishart, of The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, said: "At the moment there are no drugs that can effectively halt the progress of degenerative illnesses such as Huntington's disease or Alzheimer's disease.
"This study has identified key proteins which may control what goes wrong in a range of brain disorders. We now hope to identify drugs that prevent the breakdown of communication between brain cells and, as a result, halt the progress of these devastating neurodegenerative conditions."
The study, published in PLoS Genetics, was funded by the Wellcome Trust and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.