Part of the brain may be ‘dementia-proof’: Region that controls movement produces proteins that ‘actively protect it against Alzheimer’s’
- Brains of people who died with Alzheimer’s were compared to those without
- Same proteins are not found in five other key regions of a patient’s brain
- A better understanding of Alzheimer’s onset gives scientists hope of a cure
Part of the brain may be ‘dementia-proof’, research suggests.
A study that looked at the vital organs of nine people who died from Alzheimer’s disease found the sufferers produced proteins which protect against the disease in the brain region known as the cerebellum.
The cerebellum – which controls movement – was not damaged by the disease, unlike five other key regions of the brain.
It is thought the cerebellum undergoes a change at the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease which could be the way of the body putting up its defences.
The researchers hope better understanding Alzheimer’s onset will help scientists finally find a cure.
Part of the brain may be ‘dementia-proof’, research suggests (stock)
The research was carried out by the University of Manchester and led by Dr Richard Unwin, from the division of cardiovascular sciences.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and affects more than 520,000 people in the UK, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.
The disease has around 5.7million sufferers in the US, Alzheimer’s Association statistics show.
The scientists analysed the brains of nine people who died of Alzheimer’s, as well as nine others’ who died of other causes, including heart disease and cancer.
They mapped 5,825 different types of proteins across six brain regions – 44 of which had never been identified before.
To start, they first analysed three regions of the brain that are known to be affected by Alzheimer’s.
These included the entorhinal cortex – which is involved in storing memories; the cingulate gyrus – which processes emotions; and the hippocampus – which regulates both memories and emotions, and is where Alzheimer’s starts.
The researchers were surprised to discover the motor cortex – which controls movement, and the sensory cortex – which regulates our senses, for example vision – remained largely untouched by the disease.
And the cerebellum expresses proteins that may even protect against Alzheimer’s in patients with the disease.
‘Many of the changes here are not seen in other regions and this could imply that this region actively protects itself from disease,’ Dr Unwin said.
The researchers hope their study will move us one step closer to curing Alzheimer’s.
‘We think the changes we see in the regions affected later on represent early disease changes, present before cells die,’ Dr Unwin said.
‘These represent good new targets for drug developers, as we know it’s important to try to intervene early.’
Dr Rosa Sancho, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, added: ‘By studying thousands of individual proteins, this exciting research has generated a detailed molecular map of changes that get underway in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease.
‘This information will help researchers navigate the complex and changing environment of the brain in Alzheimer’s, and identify processes that could be targeted by future drugs.
‘There are over half a million people in the UK living with Alzheimer’s and there are currently no treatments that can slow or stop the disease from progressing in the brain.
‘Pioneering research like this is driving progress towards new breakthroughs that will change people’s lives.’
WHAT IS ALZHEIMER’S?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain, in which build-up of abnormal proteins causes nerve cells to die.
This disrupts the transmitters that carry messages, and causes the brain to shrink.
More than 5 million people suffer from the disease in the US, where it is the 6th leading cause of death.
As brain cells die, the functions they provide are lost.
That includes memory, orientation and the ability to think and reason.
The progress of the disease is slow and gradual.
On average, patients live five to seven years after diagnosis, but some may live for ten to 15 years.
- Loss of short-term memory
- Behavioral changes
- Mood swings
- Difficulties dealing with money or making a phone call
- Severe memory loss, forgetting close family members, familiar objects or places
- Becoming anxious and frustrated over inability to make sense of the world, leading to aggressive behavior
- Eventually lose ability to walk
- May have problems eating
- The majority will eventually need 24-hour care
Source: Alzheimer’s Association