Alzheimer’s may begin outside the brain

Science is looking beyond the brain to better understand Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study that holds potential for future therapies shows that Alzheimer’s can start anywhere in the body before traveling to the brain.

“Alzheimer’s disease is clearly a disease of the brain. But we need to pay attention to the whole body to understand where it comes from — and how to stop it,” said lead author and psychiatry professor Weihong Song of the University of British Columbia in Canada.

To reach conclusions — published the journal, Molecular Psychiatry — Song and his colleagues used parabiosis. The technique involves surgically joining specimens so that they share the same blood supply.

Dolphins can develop Alzheimer’s disease, study says

Normal mice that don’t typically develop Alzheimer’s were attached to modified mice with high levels of amyloid beta, the protein that causes one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain. After a number of months, healthy mice were found to have Alzheimer’s and other brain impairments.

Amyloid beta is produced in blood platelets, blood vessels and muscles, and its precursor protein is found in several other organs. It was unclear if amyloid beta from outside the brain could contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. The new study, done in collaboration with Chinese scientists, shows it can.

“The blood-brain barrier weakens as we age,” Song said. “That might allow more amyloid beta to infiltrate the brain, supplementing what is produced by the brain itself and accelerating the deterioration.”

More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. The findings offer hope that future drug therapies might be able to stop or slow the disease by targeting the kidney or liver instead of the harder-to target brain.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s