Researchers believe they may have found how Alzheimer’s disease spreads across one area of the brain at its early stages to across the whole organ--and that brain stimulation may in fact speed up this damaging process.
Reporting in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the authors from Columbia University Medical Center showed in preclinical studies how a protein called tau--which is a small but slowly growing area of research for a number of biopharma companies--can effectively “jump” from one neuron to another in the brain.
The authors, who tested out the theory on mice, say this helps explain the degenerative nature of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) as tau is typically located locally in the brain at the early stages of AD, but then spreads via the extracellular space that surrounds the its neurons.
“By learning how tau spreads, we may be able to stop it from jumping from neuron to neuron," said Karen Duff, professor in the department of pathology and cell biology in the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain, and professor of psychiatry at New York State Psychiatric Institute.
“This would prevent the disease from spreading to other regions of the brain, which is associated with more severe dementia.” This builds on earlier work from Prof Duff that showed a similar spreading of the protein.
“This finding has important clinical implications,” explained Prof Duff. "When tau is released into the extracellular space, it would be much easier to target the protein with therapeutic agents, such as antibodies, than if it had remained in the neuron.”
On top of this, the authors say they also found that the spread of tau actually speeds up when the neurons are more active, leading to increased damage.
The research is of course at a very early stage, but Prof Duff believes that it: “Suggests that clinical trials testing treatments that increase brain activity, such as deep brain stimulation, should be monitored carefully in people with neurodegenerative diseases.”
- check out the paper