Some Neurons Can Fight Alzheimer's With Self-Cleaning Mechanism

December 19, 2018
By Diane Samson

Some neurons have the capacity to protect themselves against Alzheimer's by sweeping away toxic tau proteins associated with the disease, according to a new study.

Scientists from Columbia University, The Ohio State University, and the University of Cambridge teamed up to study why neurodegenerative diseases affect some neurons but not others. To probe the reasons behind the selectivity, researchers used new techniques that allowed them to look at individual cells in the brain to examine.

The study was published in the journal Nature.

Self-Cleaning Neurons

The researchers found neurons that have accumulated tau proteins have a fewer presence of the components of a cellular cleaning system. The team confirmed their findings by manipulating a protein called BAG3, a component of a cellular cleaning system, in the brains of lab mice.

When the level of BAG3 was lowered, tau proteins started to build up. However, when the researchers increased the level of BAG3, the neurons were able to sweep away the toxic proteins.

"If we can develop therapies to support these natural defense mechanisms and stop tau from accumulating," stated Karen Duff, a neuroscientist at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, "we might be able to prevent, or at least slow, the development of Alzheimer's and other tau-related neurodegenerative diseases."

The researchers share that they still have unpublished data that explains the link between aging and a person's increased risk of Alzheimer's Disease.

The Alzheimer's Problem

Alzheimer's continue to be the most common cause of dementia. According to the U.S. National Institute of Health, recent estimates suggest that neurodegenerative disease is the third leading cause of death in older people, just behind heart disease and cancer.

In the United States, an estimated 5.7 million people are living with Alzheimer's in 2018. By 2050, the number is expected to rise to 14 million.

There currently is no cure for Alzheimer's Disease. However, treatments are available for those who experience symptoms to improve their quality of life.

The most common early symptom of the disease is poor memory and slowed thinking. While age is not the direct cause of Alzheimer's and other dementias, the likelihood of developing the disease increase as a person grows older. [read more]