Ultrasound could help treat Alzheimer’s disease

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Researchers from the University of Queensland have made a surprising discovery that challenges a long-held belief in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Gerhard Leinenga and Professor Jürgen Götz, working at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), have found that the improvement in cognitive functions in neurodegenerative disorders doesn’t necessarily involve targeting and clearing amyloid plaques in the brain.

Amyloid plaques, which are clusters of protein that accumulate and disrupt cell communication, have been a primary target in Alzheimer’s research due to their association with memory loss and cognitive decline.

Traditionally, efforts to treat Alzheimer’s involved methods to clear these plaques from the brain, such as using microbubbles to open the blood-brain barrier and activate microglia cells that remove the plaques.

However, the new study by the QBI team used a different approach, applying scanning ultrasound without the microbubbles directly to mouse models.

This method resulted in a significant enhancement of memory, indicating that ultrasound alone can induce beneficial cognitive changes without directly removing amyloid plaques.

The team observed that ultrasound therapy directly affected neurons, increasing their plasticity and leading to improved brain networks, even though the amyloid plaques were not specifically targeted or cleared.

This suggests that the therapy may make the brain more resilient to the presence of plaques, enhancing cognitive function by improving the health and connectivity of neuronal networks rather than removing the plaques themselves.

Further, the study uncovered that the success of ultrasound therapy in improving cognitive functions varied with the frequency of the ultrasound waves used.

Higher frequency waves yielded better outcomes compared to the lower frequencies currently being tested in clinical trials for Alzheimer’s patients. This insight could significantly impact the future direction of ultrasound therapy research and treatment protocols.

The findings hold promise for the development of personalized and effective treatments for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders.

By gaining a deeper understanding of how ultrasound therapy works at a cellular level, researchers can optimize the treatment to maximize cognitive improvements for patients.

This research not only opens new avenues for treating Alzheimer’s disease but also represents a paradigm shift in the approach to combating neurodegenerative disorders, focusing on enhancing brain resilience and connectivity rather than solely on plaque removal.

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The research findings can be found in Molecular Psychiatry.

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