Researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, have discovered the first conclusive evidence of Alzheimer's-like neurofibrillary brain tangles in an aged nonhuman primate. The unprecedented finding, described in the online issue of the Journal of Comparative Neurology, has the potential to move the scientific community one step closer to understanding why age-related neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, are uniquely human and seem to never fully manifest in other species--including our closest evolutionary relative, the chimpanzee.
Lead researchers Rebecca Rosen, a doctoral student who is conducting her research at Yerkes, and Lary Walker, PhD, a neuroscientist and research professor at Yerkes, in collaboration with colleagues at UCLA, made the unanticipated finding during a routine post-mortem study of an aged, female chimpanzee that died of natural causes. The researchers also discovered deposits of beta-amyloid protein in plaques and blood vessels of the chimp's brain tissue, although these changes were infrequent compared to Alzheimer's disease in humans.
"We've seen these plaques in aged chimpanzees before, but this is the first time researchers have found both hallmark features of Alzheimer's disease--plaques and neurofibrillary tangles--in a nonhuman primate," explains Walker.
As many as five million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia. A cure has eluded researchers, and the disease is considered progressive and fatal. Brain plaques and tangles associated with the disease are prime suspects in damaging and killing nerve cells that cause memory loss and dementia.
"Alzheimer's disease has a huge number of potential causes," says Rosen. "By studying the development of human features of the disease that occur naturally in nonhuman primates, we may be able to isolate what makes people so susceptible to neurodegenerative disease
|Contact: Emily Rios|