Poorly insulated nerve cells promote Alzheimer's disease in old age: Study
Alzheimer's disease, an irreversible type of dementia, is the most common neurological illness in the world. Age is the most important risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, although why is unknown. Myelin, the insulating membrane that surrounds nerve cells in the brain, is known to deteriorate with age.
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Alzheimer's disease, an irreversible type of dementia, is the most common neurological illness in the world. Age is the most important risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, although why is unknown. Myelin, the insulating membrane that surrounds nerve cells in the brain, is known to deteriorate with age. The Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Multidisciplinary Sciences in Gottingen has recently demonstrated that such faulty myelin actively promotes illness-related alterations in Alzheimer's disease. Slowing down age-related myelin degradation might lead to new approaches to prevent or postpone the course of the illness in the future.
What was I about to do? Where did I put the keys? When was that appointment again? It starts with slight memory lapses, followed by increasing problems to orient, to follow conversations, to articulate, or to perform simple tasks. In the final phase, patients are most often care-dependent. Alzheimer's disease progresses gradually and mainly affects the elderly. The risk of developing Alzheimer's doubles every five years after the age of 65. Signs of aging in the brain
"The underlying mechanisms that explain the correlation between age and Alzheimer's disease have not yet been elucidated," says Klaus-Armin Nave, director at the MPI for Multidisciplinary Sciences. With his team of the Department of Neurogenetics, he investigates the function of myelin, the lipid-rich insulating layer of the brain's nerve cell fibers. Myelin ensures the rapid communication between nerve cells and supports their metabolism. "Intact myelin is critical for normal brain function. We have shown that age-related changes in myelin promote pathological changes in Alzheimer's disease," Nave continues. In a new study now published in the scientific journal Nature, the scientists explored the possible role of age-related myelin degradation in the development of Alzheimer's. Their work focused on a typical feature of the disease: "Alzheimer's is characterized by the deposition of certain proteins in the brain, the so-called amyloid beta peptides, or A peptides for short," states Constanze Depp, one of the study's two first authors. "The A peptides clump together to form amyloid plaques. In Alzheimer's patients, these plaques form many years and even decades before the first symptoms appear." In the course of the disease, nerve cells finally die irreversibly and the transmission of information in the brain is disturbed.
Using imaging and biochemical methods, the scientists examined and compared different mouse models of Alzheimer's in which amyloid plaques occur in a similar way to those in Alzheimer's patients. For the first time, however, they studied Alzheimer's mice that additionally had myelin defects, which also occur in the human brain at an advanced age. Ting Sun, second first author of the study, describes the results: "We saw that myelin degradation accelerates the deposition of amyloid plaques in the mice' brains. The defective myelin stresses the nerve fibers, causing them to swell and produce more A peptides."
Overwhelmed immune cells At the same time, the myelin defects attract the attention of the brain's immune cells called microglia. "These cells are very vigilant and monitor the brain for any sign of impairment. They can pick up and destroy substances, such as dead cells or cellular components," Depp adds. Normally, microglia detect and eliminate amyloid plaques, keeping the buildup at bay. However, when microglia are confronted with both defective myelin and amyloid plaques, they primarily remove the myelin remnants while the plaques continue to accumulate. The researchers suspect that the microglia are 'distracted' or overwhelmed by the myelin damage, and thus cannot respond properly to plaques.
A cornerstone for therapeutic approaches The results of the study show, for the first time, that defective myelin in the aging brain increases the risk of A peptide deposition. "We hope this will lead to new therapies. If we succeeded in slowing down age-related myelin damage, this could also prevent or slow down Alzheimer's disease," Nave says. (ANI)
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