While its exact causes are unknown, Alzheimer’s disease is commonly associated with clumps of toxic amyloid plaques in the brain, and researchers are continuing to understand the different components that help them take shape. Scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a new compound that attacks a number of the key players in the formation of amyloid plaques, significantly decreasing the level of plaques and reducing inflammation in the brain.
The presence of amyloid plaque buildup is considered a hallmark of Alzheimer’s, but it is thought that damage begins to occur in the brain long before these clumps appear. A great deal of research into the disease seeks to attack the building blocks of amyloid plaques. This includes protein fragments called beta-amyloid peptides, which may pose an even greater threat than the plaques themselves.
“Studies have found strong evidence that these soluble peptides are the most neurotoxic species and are causing memory loss and neuron cell death,” says Liviu Mirica, who led the new research. “Plaque formation might be an attempt by the brain to neutralize the threat.”
Along with beta-amyloid peptides, recent research has begun to illuminate the role metal ions might play in driving Alzheimer’s progression. Post-mortem studies have uncovered elevated levels of copper, iron, and zinc in the brains of sufferers, which are thought to interact with and stabilize the beta-amyloid peptides, as well as increasing oxidative stress and brain inflammation.