A new study has uncovered why older people are more prone to develop Alzheimer’s disease

Susanne Wegmann of the German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) in Berlin and her colleagues have uncovered a possible cause for the connection between ageing and Alzheimer’s disease.

Carried out in close collaboration with researchers in the US, at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, the research team found that certain molecules involved in the disease, termed ‘tau-proteins’, spread more easily in the ageing brain.

How the disease affects the brain

Alzheimer’s disease usually begins with memory decline and later affects other cognitive abilities.

Two different kinds of protein deposit in the brain are involved in the disease: ‘amyloid beta plaques’ and ‘tau neurofibrillary tangles’.

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The emergence of tau neurofibrillary tangles reflects disease progression: they first manifest in the brain’s memory centres and then appear in other areas in the course of the disease. Tau proteins or tau aggregates probably migrate along nerve fibres and thereby contribute to the spread of the disease throughout the brain.

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Tau spreads more rapidly in an ageing brain

If the protein spreads more easily in older brains, this could explain the increased susceptibility of older people to Alzheimer’s disease.

Wegmann and her colleagues tested this hypothesis. Using a ‘gene vector’ – a tailored virus particle – the scientists channelled the blueprint of the human tau protein into the brains of mice. Individual cells then began to produce the protein.

Twelve weeks later, the researchers examined how far the tau protein had travelled from the production site. “Human tau proteins spread about twice as fast in older mice as compared to younger animals,” says Wegmann.

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Source: DZNE – German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases via www.sciencedaily.com

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