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Cells talk more in areas Alzheimer's hits first, boosting plaque component
Date:5/2/2011

p>In a paper published in 2005, Washington University researchers showed that regions in the default mode network are often among the first to develop Alzheimer's plaques. To understand why, Adam Bero, a graduate student in Holtzman's lab, analyzed the brain chemistry of mice. He found that the mouse brain regions analogous to those in the human default mode network had similarly high levels of early amyloid plaque deposits when compared to other areas.

Next, Bero showed in younger mice that the high-plaque regions had increased amyloid beta levels. In a third experiment, he found that the greater amyloid beta levels were caused by increased nerve cell communication in the affected regions.

To further prove the relationship between plaque formation and cell communication, scientists trimmed the whiskers on one side of a group of mice and kept them short for one month.

"Because mice are nocturnal and their eyesight is poor, whiskers are an important way for them to sense where they are in their environment," Holtzman explains. "By cutting the whiskers back on one side, we reduced neuronal activity in the region of the brain that senses whisker movement."

Loss of this input resulted in smaller and less numerous plaques on the side of the brain connected to the pruned whiskers. In a separate experiment, when researchers regularly stimulated whiskers with a cotton swab, amyloid beta levels increased.

According to Holtzman, the results demonstrate the direct connection between amyloid plaque formation and growth and changes in brain cell activity levels in various parts of the brain. He plans further investigations of the mechanisms that regulate default brain activity, their connections to phenomena such as sleep, and their potential effects on Alzheimer's disease.


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Contact: Michael C. Purdy
purdym@wustl.edu
314-286-0122
Washington University School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert  

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