In a study from Lund University and Karolinska Institutet, scientists found the brain’s big-eating immune cells can slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
The brain’s own immune cells are called microglia and are found in the central nervous system.
They are big eaters that kill viruses, damaged cells, and infectious agents they come across.
It has long been known that microglial cells can be activated in different ways in several neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Depending on how they are activated, they can both drive and slow disease development.
In the current study, the team found that a certain type of activation of the microglial cells triggers inflammatory protective mechanisms in the immune system.
One of the proteins that sit on the surface of microglial cells is TREM2. When an unusual mutation occurs in this protein, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s increases.
However, when the protein is activated, it can instead be protective. Namely, the TREM2 receptor seems to sense residual products of disintegrating cells in the brain, causing it to be triggered.
When TREM2 is activated in people with Alzheimer’s, researchers have found that less of the thread-like structures formed by the protein tau accumulates in the brain cells.
In some animal studies, it has been previously observed that microglial cells can eat tau proteins and thus clean up what is abnormal in the brain.
The team believes that this could be behind what is also happening in this research study, which is conducted in humans.
They also think that the results of the study are particularly interesting, given that several pharmaceutical companies are now developing antibodies that can activate TREM2 in particular, and they hope for a future treatment method for Alzheimer’s disease.
Maybe in the future patients can receive a cocktail of drugs that, in addition to reducing beta-amyloid, also boost TREM2 antibodies and thus slow down the course of the disease.
If you care about Alzheimer’s disease, please read studies about daytime napping strongly linked to Alzheimer’s disease, and how to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.
For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about how Alzheimer’s disease is treated and results showing alternative drug strategies against Alzheimer’s disease.
The study was conducted by Joana B. Pereira et al and published in Nature Aging.
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