Researchers are working to fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease so that they can one day see the disease eliminated. If scientists are able to understand exactly how Alzheimer’s starts, they may be able to stop it in its tracks.
But researchers have proposed a counterintuitive approach to preventing Alzheimer’s: destroying the brain’s immune cells.
The brain has specialized immune cells called microglia, and the microglia destroy pathogens and removed damaged cells in the brain. They also control inflammatory responses in the brain, keeping inflammation in check. The microglia are key in clearing out amyloid beta cells, the accumulation of which is associated with the development of Alzheimer’s.
But the microglia, normally responsible for containing and clearing plaques caused by amyloid beta cells, can also release a protein called ASC, which actually binds to amyloid plaques and helps fuel their growth. German researchers found that destroying the microglia cells reduced the formation of inflammation-causing amyloid plaques.
But what about the good functions of microglia cells? A study out of the University of California, Irvine, showed that eliminating the microglia cells in adult mice did not harm the mice, and that the mice continued to be healthy and fully functioning after microglia elimination.
Researchers think that microglia elimination may eventually prove helpful in eliminating Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease.
More research is needed though, as the same process in humans might have different effects. The relationship of microglia with amyloid plaques is complicated; microglia initially clear away the plaques, but then seem to fuel them as the amyloid beta cells gain momentum. Researchers are seeking to fully understand the intricate functions of the microglia cells and how they may play a role in one day curing Alzheimer’s disease.
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