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UCLA study suggests iron is at core of Alzheimer's disease
Date:8/20/2013

ight be a risk factor for age-related diseases like Alzheimer's. Although iron is essential for cell function, too much of it can promote oxidative damage, to which the brain is especially vulnerable.

In the current study, Bartzokis and his colleagues tested their hypothesis that elevated tissue iron caused the tissue breakdown associated with Alzheimer's disease. They targeted the vulnerable hippocampus, a key area of the brain involved in the formation of memories, and compared it to the thalamus, which is relatively spared by Alzheimer's until the very late stages of disease.

The researchers used an MRI technique that can measure the amount of brain iron in ferritin, a protein that stores iron, in 31 patients with Alzheimer's and 68 healthy control subjects.

In the presence of diseases like Alzheimer's, as the structure of cells breaks down, the amount of water increases in the brain, which can mask the detection of iron, according to Bartzokis.

"It is difficult to measure iron in tissue when the tissue is already damaged," he said. "But the MRI technology we used in this study allowed us to determine that the increase in iron is occurring together with the tissue damage. We found that the amount of iron is increased in the hippocampus and is associated with tissue damage in patients with Alzheimer's but not in the healthy older individuals or in the thalamus. So the results suggest that iron accumulation may indeed contribute to the cause of Alzheimer's disease."

But it's not all bad news from this study, Bartzokis noted.

"The accumulation of iron in the brain may be influenced by modifying environmental factors, such as how much red meat and iron dietary supplements we consume and, in women, having hysterectomies before menopause," he said.

In addition, he noted, medications that chelate and remove iron from tissue are being developed by several pharmaceutical companies as treatments
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Contact: Mark Wheeler
mwheeler@mednet.ucla.edu
310-794-2265
University of California - Los Angeles
Source:Eurekalert

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