Even before Alzheimer’s sufferers show symptoms of the disease, changes are taking place in their brain, and while scientists are yet to find the causes of this disease, they’ve recently discovered more about how the synapses are lost in the early stages.
This recent study was conducted by scientists at the University of New South Wales in Australia, with their findings being published this month in the journal Nature Communications. The lead researcher, Dr. Vladimir Sytnyk, explained that one of the first changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease is the loss of the synapses which connect the neurons in the brain. This loss occurs very early in the disease, long before the death of the nerve cells, and before the typical symptoms of Alzheimer’s become apparent. As synapses are required for all functions in the brain, and in particular for learning and forming memories, the loss of these synapses plays a big part in the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s.
To find out more about brain during the development Alzheimer’s scientists studied tissue samples from the brains of deceased people, both with and without the condition.
Sytnyk and his colleagues planned to find out more about the changes in the brain during the development of Alzheimer’s by investigating how a brain protein, known as neural cell adhesion molecule 2 (NCAM2) helped to maintain the synaptic connections between the neurons in the brain. To do this, they studied tissue samples from the brains of deceased people, both with and without the condition. Their findings showed that the individuals with Alzheimer’s had very low levels of NCAM2 in their hippocampus, the part of the brain where memories are formed. As most of the damage caused by Alzheimer’s appears to take place in this region, this was a very significant finding.
To take their hypothesis one step further, Sytnyk and his team conducted further studies using mice. As a result of this, they discovered find that beta-amyloid proteins broke down the NCAM2 in the mice brains, leading the researchers to believe that they had identified a new molecular mechanism which played a direct part in the loss of synapses. This discovery has proved to be important, as it opens up a whole new way to find possible treatments to prevent the destruction of NCAM2, and it may also enable an earlier diagnosis of the disease.
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