Researchers May Have Found Where Alzheimer’s Begins

March 11, 2016

A small region of the brain called the locus coeruleus may be where Alzheimer’s disease starts in the brain. Researchers at the University of Southern California said that this particular part of the brain stem releases a chemical called norepinephrine. The chemical regulates heart rate, attention, memory and cognition. It also seems to protect neurons from inflammation that may cause the onset of dementia. The locus coeruleus may be more susceptible to infections and toxins than other brain regions due to its high interconnectedness. This area of the brain stem regulates blood vessel activity with branch-like axons throughout the brain. It is also the first region of the brain where tau pathology shows up. This protein can lead to tangles in the brain which is an indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.

Scientists are reviewing their research and although there isn’t a new finding or discovery, there may be cognitive reserve effect. This is a catch-all term for behaviors that that are linked to a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s. Some of the behaviors are being better educated or having a challenging occupation and retiring later. These are mechanisms that stimulate the brain, just as reading a book, learning something new, or doing a challenging puzzle would do. All of these activities stimulate the locus coeruleu which produces more norepinephrine. All of these things give your brain more protection. The scientists are using prior research to show tau proteins show-up in that brain region slowly over time and this causes people to develop Alzheimer’s. This is important work to develop new therapies to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

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