Alzheimer's disease might not just be a brain problem

Dementia diet

But until now it was generally considered that the plaque-generating proteins responsible for Alzheimer's were produced inside the brain.

Song and his colleagues believe their study is the first to demonstrate that amyloid-beta originating in the bloodstream can spread to the brain and bring on the neuron deficits that cause Alzheimer's.

They found the protein had traveled from the genetically-modified mice into the brains of their normal partners, where it accumulated and began to develop into the disease.

Dr. Weihong Song, a UBC psychiatry professor and a Canada Research Chair in Alzheimer's Disease, says his research team focused on the amyloid-β protein, a protein of unclear function which is normally produced everywhere in the body.

An experimental treatment that is supposed to bind to amyloid proteins inside the brain produced by Eli Lilly failed its clinical trial past year.

Song envisions a drug that would bind to Aβ throughout the body, tagging it biochemically in such a way that the liver or kidneys could clear it. "Alzheimer's disease is clearly a disease of the brain", he stated, "but we need to pay attention to the whole body to understand where it comes from, and how to stop it".

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Taking one normal mouse (mice can not naturally get Alzheimer's disease) and one mouse that had been modified to carry the human amyloid-beta gene, they were merged into one for a period of a year. The technique involves surgically attaching two specimens together so they share the same blood supply for several months. Tackling Alzheimer's by targeting amyloid-beta outside the brain may be a lot easier, say the scientists.

Besides the brain, Aβ is produced in blood platelets, blood vessels, and muscles, and its precursor protein is found in several other organs.

Now unable to remember where it left its cheese and prone to mood swings, the previously undiseased rodent suffers a number of Alzheimer's-like effects: plaques, twisted protein strands (which slowly kill brain cells from the inside out), inflammation, microbleeds.

The ability to transmit electrical signals involved in learning and memory was impaired in the normal mice after just four months. The new study, done in collaboration with Chinese scientists, shows it can.

'The protein can get into the brain from a connected mouse and cause neurodegeneration, ' Professor Song said.

Alzheimer's affects more than 5 million Americans, but can only be officially diagnosed via autopsy, meaning there's no real means of detecting it while the patient is even alive, let alone in an early and potentially more treatable stage. "That might allow more amyloid beta to infiltrate the brain, supplementing what is produced by the brain itself and accelerating the deterioration".

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