Scientists at Duke University found evidence that the immune system could be behind the mechanisms that lead to Alzheimer’s disease. This is being considered the biggest breakthrough in Alzheimer’s research in years.
It is known that Alzheimer’s Disease is caused by the accumulation of two different types of protein in the brain, named beta amyloid and tau. Beta amyloid is responsible for the plaques and tau accumulates in the tangles, both identified by Alois Alzheimer, the first scientist to recognize the disease, in 1906.
Most of the research conducted until now has been trying to target these proteins and reduce their accumulation in the brain. Some studies in that direction show promising results that could lead to the development of treatments as early as 2020.
Mechanism of the disease
Duke’s research, however, goes beyond and tries to identify what is the mechanism of the disease and how amyloid and tau are originated. Experiments conducted with mice suggest certain immune cells that normally protect the brain begin to abnormally consume an important nutrient: an amino acid called arginine.
In a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, immune cells called microglia (shown in the black stain) become active in areas of the brain involved in memory and consume an important amino acid, arginine.
Photo credit – Carol Colton lab, Duke University
Blocking this process in mice with the use of a small-molecule drug prevented the characteristic brain plaques and memory loss of Alzheimer’s. That points to another possibility of treatment, if the same could be achieved in humans.
For this reason the study is being considered a breakthrough.
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