Many people dread experiencing the cognitive and mood declines that often accompany reaching an advanced age, including memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and mood conditions like depression.
A new study from Baylor College of Medicine found a missing piece of the puzzle of how memory and mood are sustained and regulated in the brain.
They found that oleic acid produced in the brain is an essential regulator of the process that enables learning and memory and supports proper mood regulation.
The finding has paved the path to discovering potential new therapeutic strategies to counteract cognitive and mood decline in patients with neurological disorders.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and was conducted by Dr. Mirjana Maletic-Savatic et al.
In this study, the team searched for a way to tap into the fountain of youth, to reignite the process of neurogenesis to prevent its decline or restore it.
Neurogenesis has a ‘master regulator,’ a protein within neural stem cells called TLX that is a major player in the birth of new neurons.
They discovered that a common fatty acid called oleic acid binds to TLX and this increases cell proliferation and neurogenesis in the hippocampus of both young and old brains.
This oleic acid is produced within the neural stem cells in order to activate TLX.
While oleic acid is also the major component in olive oil, however, this would not be an effective source of oleic acid because it would likely not reach the brain. It must be produced by the cells themselves.
The team says the finding that oleic acid regulates TLX activation has major therapeutic implications.
This strategy could potentially be used to treat diseases such as major depressive disorders and Alzheimer’s disease.
A previous study has shown the cause of Alzheimer’s disease in the human brain.
In a study from the University of Cambridge, researchers have used human data to quantify the speed of different processes that lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
They found that instead of starting from a single point in the brain and initiating a chain reaction that leads to the death of brain cells, Alzheimer’s disease reaches different regions of the brain early.
How quickly the disease kills cells in these regions, through the production of toxic protein clusters, limits how quickly the disease progresses overall.
The results could have important implications for the development of potential treatments.
In that study, the team examined post-mortem brain samples from Alzheimer’s patients, as well as PET scans from living patients, who ranged from those with mild cognitive impairment to those with full-blown Alzheimer’s disease.
In Alzheimer’s disease, tau and another protein called amyloid-beta build up into tangles and plaques—known collectively as aggregates—causing brain cells to die and the brain to shrink.
This results in memory loss, personality changes, and difficulty carrying out daily functions.
The team found that the mechanism controlling the rate of progression in Alzheimer’s disease is the replication of aggregates in individual regions of the brain, and not the spread of aggregates from one region to another.
The results open up new ways of understanding the progress of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, and new ways that future treatments might be developed.
For many years, the processes within the brain which result in Alzheimer’s disease have been described using terms like ‘cascade’ and ‘chain reaction’.
It is a difficult disease to study since it develops over decades, and a definitive diagnosis can only be given after examining samples of brain tissue after death.
For years, researchers have relied largely on animal models to study the disease. Results from mice suggested that Alzheimer’s disease spreads quickly, as the toxic protein clusters colonize different parts of the brain.
This is the first time that human data has been used to track which processes control the development of Alzheimer’s disease over time.
The researchers say their methodology could be used to help the development of treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, which affects an estimated 44 million people worldwide.
The study is published in Science Advances. One author of the study is Dr. Georg Meisl.
If you care about brain health, please read studies about how does COVID affect the brain, and findings of two common habits that can make your brain age fast.
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