Cholesterol can drive plaque formation in Alzheimer’s disease

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In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found cholesterol manufactured in the brain appears to play a key role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

They found that cholesterol produced by cells called astrocytes is required for controlling the production of amyloid beta, a sticky protein that builds up in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s.

The protein accumulates into insoluble plaques that are a hallmark of the disease. Many efforts have targeted these plaques in the hope that removing or preventing them could treat or prevent Alzheimer’s.

The findings offer important insights into how and why the plaques form and may explain why genes associated with cholesterol have been linked to increased risk for Alzheimer’s.

The study is from the University of Virginia. One author is Heather A. Ferris, MD, Ph.D.

While cholesterol is often linked to clogged arteries and heart disease, it plays important role in a healthy body. The body makes cholesterol naturally so it can produce hormones and carry out other important functions.

In the study, the scientists found that astrocytes help drive the progression of Alzheimer’s by making and distributing cholesterol to brain cells called neurons.

This cholesterol buildup increases amyloid beta production and, in turn, fuels plaque accumulation.

Normally, cholesterol is kept quite low in neurons, limiting the buildup of amyloid beta. But in Alzheimer’s, the neurons lose their ability to regulate amyloid beta, resulting in plaque formation.

Blocking the astrocytes’ cholesterol manufacturing “robustly” decreased amyloid beta production in lab mice, the researchers report in a new scientific paper.

It’s too soon to say if this could be mimicked in people to prevent plaque formation, but the researchers believe that further research is likely to yield important insights that will benefit the battle against Alzheimer’s.

The fact that amyloid beta production is normally tightly controlled suggests that it may play an important role in brain cells, the researchers say. As such, doctors may need to be careful in trying to block or remove amyloid beta.

Additional research into the discovery could shed light on how to prevent the over-production of amyloid-beta as a strategy against Alzheimer’s, the researchers believe.

If you care about Alzheimer’s disease, please read studies about how your BMI number affects your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and findings of a new smell test for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and COVID-19.

For more information about Alzheimer’s and your health, please see recent studies about gene therapy in Alzheimer’s disease may preserve memory function and results showing that higher blood pressure at night than in daytime may increase Alzheimer’s disease risk.

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