The BBC News website this week reports on the latest research to suggest that people with Alzheimer’s disease clear a damaging protein from their brains more slowly than those who are healthy. With an ageing population, dementia, including Alzheimer’s, is currently seen as one of the main health challenges in Ireland the UK.
Amyloid plaques are one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. Amyloid is a general term for protein fragments that the body produces normally. Beta amyloid is a protein fragment snipped from an amyloid precursor protein. In a healthy brain, these protein fragments are broken down and eliminated. For some reason, in Alzheimer’s disease, the fragments accumulate to form hard, insoluble plaques.
The findings from this study suggests that people with Alzheimer’s disease clear the damaging protein from their brains 30% more slowly than those who are healthy suggesting that it is the poor clearance of the protein, not the build-up, that is the problem. Admittedly it’s a small study – just 24 people were looked at, but exciting, and could help the understanding of the disease.
Not meaning to blow my own trumpet (ahem!) but in 2008 my research group showed how the amyloid protein might be toxic in higher concentration …by inappropriately increasing the concentrations of a neurotransmitter called glutamate in the hippocampus – a brain region long associated with Alzheimer’s disease*. It’s well known that high concentrations of glutamate can damage local nerve cells and thus impair the functioning of the hippocampus.
It’s exciting to see the pieces of evidence coming together as the search for an effective treatment for dementia continues apace.
* O’Shea S.D., Smith I.M., McCabe O.M., Cronin M.M., Walsh D.M., O’Connor W.T. Sensors. 2008; 8(11):7428-7437.