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Alzheimer’s plaques - American Research

Monday, March 2nd, 2009 Alzheimer’s plaques - American Research

American research suggests that the sticky amyloid plaques linked to Alzheimer’s disease may have a more significant impact on the brain than previously thought.

Moreover the amyloid plaques are known to damage neurons - cells that transmit signals throughout the nervous system.

They have also been identified as having an impact on the astrocyte cells, which play a key support role in the brain.

The work, featured in Science, suggests the full effect of plaques on the brain is much more complex than suspected.

In essence this raises the possibility of a new target for drugs to treat Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, it is known that astrocyte cells are in abundance throughout the brain, constituting about 50% of its total volume.

Previously the cells were thought to have only played a passive role to neurons. However, they are now thought to specifically send their own chemical signals and are able to travel long distances from the brain.

Indeed the researchers, from the MassGeneral Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease, have identified that the plaques appeared to make astoctyes more active, not just those cells in their immediate vicinity.

The findings appear to suggest that individual plaques are able to spread their malign influence much further afield through the tissue of the brain.

Dr Kishore Kuchibhotla the lead researcher says, “Our work suggests that amyloid plaques might have a more complex role in altering brain function than we had thought.

“We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of how plaque deposition impacts astrocyte function.

“One key question will be how increased astrocyte signaling impacts neuronal function, and another will be whether astrocyte activity limits or intensifies plaque deposition.”

From a research perspective, the researchers labelled astrocytes with a dye that lights up when the cell is active, and shuts off when it is not.

They were surprised to see astrocytes flicker on and off at much higher rates in mice bred to be riddled with plaques.

The astrocyte activity appeared to be synchronized and passed to distant areas of the brain in a wave-like fashion.

Also establishe was that blocking neuron activity had no impact on reducing astrocyte activity, suggesting the effect on the cells was independent.

The chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, Rebecca Wood said: “This development may prove to be a breakthrough in our understanding of the disease, and the hunt for new Alzheimer’s drugs.

“It’s a new and exciting area of research for Alzheimer’s, so these findings mark the beginning of the journey for the scientists involved, but it is a path that may someday lead to the treatment we desperately need.”

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