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Receptor May Aid Spread of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in the Brain

August 23, 2013

Last year, the idea that brain cells affected by Alzheimer's disease might "infect" neighboring cells made big news, reaching national and international news audiences.  In these studies, researchers at Columbia University Medical center, and BrightFocus-funded researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital showed that tau, a protein long implicated in Alzheimer's disease, could migrate from one cell to another, propagate, and cause a wave of Alzheimer's-like symptoms, which ultimately overtakes the brain.

An electron micrograph shows clumps of corrupted tau protein outside a nerve cell. Scientists have identified a receptor that lets these clumps into the cell, where the corruption can spread. Blocking this receptor with drugs may help treat Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other disorders. Image courtesy of PNASBefore these mice studies, there was BrightFocus-funded work in isolated cells, which set the stage for these later experiments by documenting tau spreading in simpler systems.

This week, Dr. Marc Diamond, the researcher responsible for the earlier BrightFocus-funded study, reported that the affected cell is not wholly responsible for spreading tau. Rather, the neighboring cells also have a role in receiving the bad tau through a gateway into the cell that is normally used for regulating movement of many molecules between cells.

This view of tau spreading has a definitive up-side when it comes to thinking about preventing the spread of bad tau.  First, the cellular machinery that creates these gateways is amenable to being controlled by drugs.  Second, these proteins seem to be shared between several diseases. Thus, research investment in drugs that prevent tau spreading might pay off in new treatments for Alzheimer's, as well as other diseases such as Parkinson's.

View all news updates for Alzheimer's disease

Disclaimer: The information provided in this section is a public service of the BrightFocus Foundation, and should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional, and is not intended to constitute medical advice. Although we take efforts to keep the medical information on our website updated, we cannot guarantee that the information on our website reflects the most up-to-date research. Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice; all medications and supplements should only be taken under medical supervision. BrightFocus Foundation does not endorse any medical product or therapy.

Some of the content in this section is adapted from other sources, which are clearly identified within each individual item of information.

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