THURSDAY, Feb. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Alzheimer's disease appears to spread through the brain, traveling from neuron to neuron in much the same way that an infection or cancer moves through the body, new research with mice suggests.
Scientists reported Thursday that their work indicates that abnormal tau protein -- already identified in the brains of those with Alzheimer's -- starts in one region of the brain and spreads along linked cellular circuits.
Identification of this tau pathway could influence the direction of future research and treatment of the mind-wasting disease, the study authors and other experts said.
"This opens up a whole new area of biology that has direct relevance for Alzheimer's disease. We now have a whole new set of targets that perhaps we can develop drugs for," said study lead author Karen Duff, a professor of pathology at Columbia University's Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain.
The process was first noticed in autopsies of Alzheimer's patients where one could see the disease's path from one cell to another. The researchers behind the new study created genetically engineered mice to mimic that disease process.
"Now we have this protein going outside a cell and into another cell, so we potentially have something we can target with drugs," Duff said. "This is a very early aspect of the disease. Once this protein starts to move around the brain it can spread very rapidly."
This is a process that seems to happen in all types of Alzheimer's cases, she said.
One idea for a treatment would be to develop a therapeutic vaccine that could stop this process in its tracks early before dementia sets in, Duff said.
However, far more research is needed into the new findings before they might yield any therapeutic benefit to people, experts said.
Dr. Sam Gand
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