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Study Reveals How Alzheimer’s Spreads Within The Brain

June 9, 2009

Adapted from the Medical Research Council

A study in mice has demonstrated how tangles of a protein called tau can spread within the brain. Tangled masses of that tau protein contribute to several neurodegenerative diseases - those that destroy brain functions - including Alzheimer's disease. The research has provided insights into how tau tangles spread. Dr Michel Goedert of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge contributed to the study alongside colleagues in Switzerland and Germany. The results are published online in Nature Cell Biology.

Speaking about the study, Dr. Goedert made it clear that it would be incorrect to suggest that Alzheimer's could be contagious: ''This research in mice does not show that tau pathology is contagious or that it can spread easily from mouse to mouse. What it has revealed is how tau tangles spread within brain tissues of individual mice. It suggests that tangles of proteins that build up in the brain to cause symptoms could have some contagious properties, within brain tissue but not between mice that haven't been injected with tissue from another mouse and certainly not between people.'' ''The work describes an experimental system that will allow scientists to study the mechanisms that underlie the transmission and spread of the tangles of tau proteins connected to the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.''

The researchers injected brain tissue from mice modified to carry the gene for the form of human tau protein implicated in neurodegenerative disease into mice that carried the normal version of the human tau protein and therefore did not already have tangles in their brain tissue. They found that the injected material went on to create tangles of tau at the injection sites. Over time, the tau tangles then spread to neighboring regions of the brain.

This experimental model system will make it possible for researchers to examine similarities and differences between diseases related to abnormal tau proteins and prion* diseases, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

* A prion is an abnormal, transmissible agent that is able to induce abnormal folding of normal cellular prion proteins in the brain, leading to brain damage. Read more about prion research and how it relates to Alzheimer's disease.

View all news updates for Alzheimer's disease

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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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