In a new study, researchers found that inflammation in the brain may be more widely implicated in dementia than was previously thought.
They say the finding offers hope for potential new treatments for several types of dementia.
The research was conducted by a team from the University of Cambridge.
Inflammation is usually the body’s response to injury and stress—such as the redness and swelling that accompanies an injury or infection.
However, inflammation in the brain—known as neuro-inflammation—has been recognized and linked to many disorders including depression, psychosis, and multiple sclerosis.
It has also recently been linked to the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
In the study, the team sets out to examine whether neuroinflammation also occurs in other forms of dementia, which would imply that it is common to many neurodegenerative diseases.
The team recruited 31 patients with three different types of frontotemporal dementia (FTD). FTD is a family of different conditions resulting from the build-up of several abnormal ‘junk’ proteins in the brain.
Patients underwent brain scans to detect inflammation and junk proteins.
Two Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans each used an injection with a chemical ‘dye’, which lights up special molecules that reveal either the brain’s inflammatory cells or the junk proteins.
In the first scan, the dye lit up the cells causing neuroinflammation. These indicate ongoing damage to the brain cells and their connections. In the second scan, the dye binds to the different types of ‘junk’ proteins found in FTD.
The researchers showed that across the brain, and in all three types of FTD, the more inflammation in each part of the brain, the more harmful the build-up of the junk proteins there is.
To prove the dyes were picking up the inflammation and harmful proteins, they went on to analyze under the microscope 12 brains donated after death to the Cambridge Brain Bank.
The team stresses that further research is needed to translate this knowledge of inflammation in dementia into testable treatments.
But, this new study shows that neuroinflammation is a significant factor in more types of dementia than was previously thought.
The team says it is an important discovery that all three types of frontotemporal dementia have inflammation, linked to the build-up of harmful abnormal proteins in different parts of the brain.
The study suggests that inflammation is part of many other neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.
This offers hope that immune-based treatments might help slow or prevent these diseases.
The lead author of the study is Dr. Thomas Cope from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at Cambridge.
The study is published in the journal Brain.
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