Breakthrough Discovery Unravels Alzheimer's Brain Cell Mystery

Scientists reveal new pathways for neuronal death, paving the way for promising treatments.

Photo Credit : Image by on Freepik,

Scientists in the UK and Belgium may have unravelled a long-standing mystery surrounding Alzheimer's disease – how brain cells die in this condition. This discovery, outlined in the Science journal, sheds light on "necroptosis," a form of cellular self-destruction, and offers exciting prospects for novel treatments.

Alzheimer's disease is characterised by the loss of brain cells, or neurons, leading to symptoms such as memory loss. In the brains of individuals with Alzheimer's, abnormal proteins known as amyloid and tau accumulate, but understanding the connection between these proteins and the death of neurons has been elusive.

Researchers from the UK's Dementia Research Institute at University College London and KU Leuven in Belgium propose a compelling explanation. They suggest that amyloid accumulates between neurons, sparking brain inflammation, which neurons dislike. This inflammation alters the neurons' internal chemistry. Concurrently, tau tangles form and the affected brain cells start producing a molecule called MEG3, triggering necroptosis, a process the body typically uses to eliminate unwanted cells as it generates fresh ones. When the researchers blocked MEG3, the brain cells survived.

Professor Bart De Strooper, a researcher at the Dementia Research Institute, while talking to the media, hailed this finding as significant and fascinating, marking the first clue regarding how and why neurons die in Alzheimer's disease. He described it as a "specific suicide pathway."

These insights emerged from experiments transplanting human brain cells into genetically modified mice programmed to produce large quantities of abnormal amyloid. Recent progress has been made in developing drugs that remove amyloid from the brain, representing the first treatments to slow neuron loss. 

As per media reports, Professor De Strooper suggests that blocking the MEG3 molecule to prevent brain cell death could lead to a new avenue of drug development, although this will require extensive research spanning several years.

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