Resilient Brain Connections May Help Against Alzheimer's

From - November 2, 2017

Resilient Brain Connections May Help Against Alzheimer's

THURSDAY, Nov. 2, 2017 -- Certain pieces of brain structure may make some people less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.

That's the conclusion of a new study that could lead to new ways to prevent or slow the memory-destroying disease, researchers said.

For the study, the researchers analyzed brain samples from patients at memory clinics and found that the presence of healthy dendritic spines (connections between neurons) provide protection against Alzheimer's in people whose brains have proteins associated with the disease.

The findings, published recently in the Annals of Neurology, are the first of their kind, the study authors said.

"One of the precursors of Alzheimer's is the development in the brain of proteins called amyloid and tau, which we refer to as the pathology of Alzheimer's," said the study's lead author, Jeremy Herskowitz.

He's an assistant professor with the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine's department of neurology.

"However, about 30 percent of the aging population have amyloid and tau buildup but never develop dementia. Our study showed that these individuals had larger, more numerous dendritic spines than those with dementia, indicating that spine health plays a major role in the onset of disease," Herskowitz said in a university news release.

Neurons, which are brain cells, are constantly sending out dendritic spines in search of other neurons. When they connect, a synapse -- an exchange of information -- occurs between neurons. This is the basis for memory and learning, the researchers explained.

"One obvious culprit in Alzheimer's disease is the loss of dendritic spines and thus the loss of synapses," Herskowitz said.

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