Researchers from the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), the University of Washington, and the Allen Institute for Brain Science have made a significant discovery regarding the development of Alzheimer's and vascular dementia. They have identified a previously unknown chemical pathway that sheds light on how these diseases initiate and progress in the brain.
The study found that immune cells called microglia, which play a crucial role in the brain's immune response, are being destroyed in the brains of individuals with Alzheimer's and vascular dementia. This discovery highlights a previously overlooked aspect of the diseases.
The chain of events leading to damage in the brain's white matter, which connects different brain regions, begins with myelin. Myelin acts as a protective sheath for neurons, facilitating efficient communication. Over time, myelin can deteriorate due to factors like ageing and hypertension. In response, microglia are tasked with clearing the brain of the damaged myelin.
However, the researchers found that the microglia themselves are being destroyed in the process. This destruction appears to result from excess iron within the white matter they are trying to clear. In essence, these immune cells are sacrificing themselves to protect the brain.
The death of microglia and the subsequent degeneration of white matter seem to contribute to the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's and vascular dementia. While further research is needed to confirm this link, this discovery opens up new avenues for potential treatments and drug development.
Understanding the degeneration of microglia may lead to the development of therapies aimed at slowing or halting the cognitive decline seen in Alzheimer's and related dementia diseases.
This breakthrough is expected to generate excitement in the pharmaceutical industry, driving efforts to create therapeutically significant compounds to target this newly identified aspect of the diseases. Hopefully, these findings will pave the way for innovative treatments to improve the lives of individuals affected by Alzheimer's and related dementias.