Alzheimer’s was first described by Alois Alzheimer, a German psychiatrist and pathologist in 1906 as the loss of neurons in the cerebral cortex along with hippocampal atrophy, which in turn causes cognitive impairment. Today, over 47.5 million people worldwide suffer from Alzheimer’s or some type of dementia. While there are no successful treatments for Alzheimer’s, there are treatments available to help alleviate some of the symptoms. Furthermore, there is no way to effectively prevent the disease. A study published in the journal Cell Stem Cell by a team of Canadian researchers led by Dr. Karl J. L. Fernandes is aiming to change that.
Accumulation of Fat Deposits
By relating lipid accumulation in the brain with disease progression, a notion previously observed by Alois Alzheimer, the researchers were able to take steps toward Alzheimer’s treatment. The study found that fat droplets accumulate in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients and that these abnormal fat deposits could be a trigger for the disease. They studied both mouse models that had been genetically modified to develop Alzheimer’s, as well as the brain tissue of nine patients who had died from Alzheimer’s.
During the average aging process, these fatty acids are produced by the brain and build up naturally over time. With people predisposed to the Alzheimer’s gene, the build up process is significantly accelerated. For example, in the mice that were predisposed to the Alzheimer’s gene, the accumulation started early on at two months of age, which corresponds to the early twenties in humans. Therefore, this study demonstrates that the accumulation of these fat deposits is a cause or accelerator of the disease rather than a consequence.
Impacts of the Research
Pharmacological inhibitors of the enzyme responsible for the production of oleic acid are currently being tested for metabolic diseases such as obesity. Researchers were able to use these molecules on mice to increase the neuronal stem cells, where the lipid droplets accumulate. By doing this, the researchers were successfully able to prevent the fatty acid buildup in mice. The impact of this research is very promising, as any increase in stem cell activity is beneficial as stem cells play such an important role in learning, memory, and recognition. Hopefully, this research will lead us one step closer to figuring out this devastating disease.