For years, scientists have believed that an excessive protein buildup and subsequent plaque formation in and around brain cells is the leading cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Thus, medications have mostly tried to control that abnormal surge of proteins. But scientists at Yale University have now suggested an entirely different root cause of Alzheimer’s that could improve diagnosis and treatment.
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Alzheimer’s disease affects parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language, attributed to an excessive protein buildup. One of the two proteins causing the disease is amyloid-β, whose deposits form plaques around brain cells, while the other is tau, deposits of which form tangles within brain cells.
But the new study at Yale has taken the attributes leading to Alzheimer’s in an entirely different direction. Following the study involving mice, researchers found that each instance of the amyloid plaque “can cause an accumulation of spheroid-shaped swellings along hundreds of axons — the thin cellular wires that connect the brain’s neurons — near amyloid plaque deposits,” Yale News reported.
A gradual accumulation of organelles within cells, known as lysosomes, which digests cellular waste, results in these swellings. As the swellings enlarge, they could blunt the transmission of standard electrical signals from one brain region to another.
These swellings along the axons could be the leading cause of the onset of dementia, the researchers said.
On further investigation, it was found that a protein in lysosomes called PLD3 caused these organelles to grow and clump together along axons, leading to more swelling of axons and a further breakdown of electrical conduction.
Later, experimental mice with Alzheimer’s-like conditions underwent gene therapy for PLD3 removal, producing a considerable reduction in axonal swelling and improving conduction.
The researchers suggested PLD3 could become a marker in diagnosing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Scientists are making rapid progress toward finding a cure for Alzheimer’s or at least finding ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle while living with the disease. The new findings are sure to offer a pathway for further studies that may bring scientists closer to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s and other neurological conditions.
“Our study opens a theoretical and experimental framework for systematically investigating axonal spheroid pathology in various neurological conditions,” the scientists rightly pointed out.
The research is indeed a milestone for researchers trying to find a definitive answer to Alzheimer’s disease. However, more clinical trials in mice and other mammalian species are expected to follow until scientists feel confident enough to move to human trials.
According to WHO, Alzheimer’s is the seventh leading cause of death among all diseases and gets increasingly painful for the patient and their loved ones. What makes matters worse is its late-in-life onset that makes elderly life extremely difficult.
Let’s hope the recent successes encourage researchers to continue striving for the ultimate prize, a cure for Alzheimer’s.