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The pericyte becomes a player in Alzheimer's, other diseases
Date:11/17/2010

Cells in the brain called pericytes that have not been high on the list of targets for treating diseases like Alzheimer's may play a more crucial role in the development of neurodegenerative diseases than has been realized.

The findings, published Nov. 4 in Neuron, cast the pericyte in a surprising new role as a key player shaping blood flow in the brain and protecting sensitive brain tissue from harmful substances. By manipulating pericyte levels, scientists were able to re-create in the brains of mice an array of abnormalities that mirror in striking fashion the brain difficulties that occur in many people as they age.

"For 150 years these cells have been known to exist in the brain, but we haven't known exactly what they are doing in adults," said Berislav Zlokovic, M.D., Ph.D., the neuroscientist who led the research at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "It turns out that pericytes are very important for helping maintain a brain environment crucial to the health of neurons. The pericyte offers us an exciting new target for new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases."

While damage to neurons oftentimes causes the symptoms that patients experience dementia in Alzheimer's, and movement difficulties in Parkinson's disease, for instance neuroscientists know that neurons depend on a broad variety of factors coming together to create just the right environment to thrive. Zlokovic himself has pioneered the concept that impaired blood flow and flaws in the blood-brain barrier may play a huge role in the development of diseases like Alzheimer's through their impact on neurons.

In the most recent findings from Zlokovic's laboratory, the two first authors who contributed equally to the research, graduate student Robert Bell and M.D./Ph.D. student Ethan Winkler, teased out the role of the pericyte in the process. Pericytes ensheath the smallest blood vessels in the brain, wrapping around capillaries like ivy wrap
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Contact: Tom Rickey
tom_rickey@urmc.rochester.edu
585-275-7954
University of Rochester Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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