News Flash for Chapel Hill: Brain Infections May Cause Alzheimer’s

June 28, 2016 | By Lorenzo Mejia

Alzheimer’s Disease researchers have assumed for a long time that the build-up of amyloid plaque in the brain is what causes the disease. Scientists thought that the plaque blocked the pathways of circuitry in the brain causing memory loss. However, new research suspects there may be a bacterial build-up of these proteins clumps that are actually microbial traps intended to confine invading microbes and protect the brain. The plaque in the brain may be the body’s attempt to fight off infection there.

This is a completely new way to think about the cause of Alzheimer’s because they don’t bear a direct relationship to what we see in the human condition. Some of the findings make a lot of sense because people with Alzheimer’s had increased levels of antibodies to herpes virus, suggesting past infections. Researchers at Harvard injected a lethal dose of bacteria in the brains of mice engineered to overproduce amyloid beta for the study of Alzheimer’s as well as normal mice. The mice engineered to overproduce amyloid plaque produced the same plaques as people with the disease while the normal mice didn’t form plaques and died faster. If the findings hold up, the data points to clearing out the infection in patients. New studies are underway.

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