The memory and thinking problems of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, which affect an estimated seven million Americans, may be related to a failure in the brain’s stress response system, the new research suggests. If this system is working well, it can protect the brain from abnormal Alzheimer’s proteins; if it gets derailed, critical areas of the brain start degenerating.
It is one of the big scientific mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease: Why do some people whose brains accumulate the plaques and tangles so strongly associated with Alzheimer’s not develop the disease?
The research, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, focuses on a protein previously thought to act mostly in the brains of developing fetuses. The scientists found that the protein also appears to protect neurons in healthy older people from aging-related stresses. But in people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, the protein is sharply depleted in key brain regions.
Experts said if other scientists could replicate and expand upon the findings, the role of the protein, called REST, could spur development of new drugs for dementia, which has so far been virtually impossible to treat.REST appears to switch off genes that promote cell death, protecting neurons from normal aging processes like energy decrease, inflammation and oxidative stress.
But in people with Alzheimer’s, mild cognitive impairment, frontotemporal dementia and Lewy body dementia, the brain areas affected by these diseases contained much less REST than healthy brains.
Read about this in the Health section of the New York Times on March 19, 2014
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