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posted by janrinok on Monday January 08 2018, @09:37PM   Printer-friendly
from the every-step-we-take dept.

Alzheimer's protein may spread like an infection, human brain scans suggest

For the first time, scientists have produced evidence in living humans that the protein tau, which mars the brain in Alzheimer's disease, spreads from neuron to neuron. Although such movement wasn't directly observed, the finding may illuminate how neurodegeneration occurs in the devastating illness, and it could provide new ideas for stemming the brain damage that robs so many of memory and cognition.

[...] Researchers at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom combined two brain imaging techniques, functional magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography (PET) scanning, in 17 Alzheimer's patients to map both the buildup of tau and their brains' functional connectivity—that is, how spatially separated brain regions communicate with each other. Strikingly, they found the largest concentrations of the damaging tau protein in brain regions heavily wired to others, suggesting that tau may spread in a way analogous to influenza during an epidemic, when people with the most social contacts will be at greatest risk of catching the disease.

The research team says this pattern, described yesterday in Brain [open, DOI: 10.1093/brain/awx347] [DX], supports something known as the "transneuronal spread" hypothesis for Alzheimer's disease, which had previously been demonstrated in mice but not people. "We come down quite strongly in favor of the idea that tau is starting in one place and moving across neurons and synapses to other places," says clinical neurologist Thomas Cope, one of the study's authors. "That has never before been shown in humans. That's very exciting." Because the researchers looked at Alzheimer's patients with a range of disease severity, they were also able to demonstrate that, when tau accumulation was higher, brain regions were on the whole less connected. The strength of connections also decreased, and connections were increasingly random.


Original Submission

Related Stories

Pfizer Halts Research Into Alzheimer's and Parkinson's; Axovant Sciences Abandons Intepirdine 11 comments

Pfizer has announced that it will halt efforts to find new treatments for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Meanwhile, Axovant Sciences will halt its studies of intepirdine after it failed to show any improvement for dementia and Alzheimer's patients. The company's stock price has declined around 90% in 3 months:

Pfizer has announced plans to end its research efforts to discover new drugs for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. The pharmaceutical giant explained its decision, which will entail roughly 300 layoffs, as a move to better position itself "to bring new therapies to patients who need them."

"As a result of a recent comprehensive review, we have made the decision to end our neuroscience discovery and early development efforts and re-allocate [spending] to those areas where we have strong scientific leadership and that will allow us to provide the greatest impact for patients," Pfizer said in a statement emailed to NPR.

[...] Despite heavily funding research efforts into potential treatments in the past, Pfizer has faced high-profile disappointment in recent years, as Reuters notes: "In 2012, Pfizer and partner Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) called off additional work on the drug bapineuzumab after it failed to help patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's in its second round of clinical trials."

Another potential treatment for neurodegenerative disorders — this one developed by Axovant, another pharmaceutical company — also found itself recently abandoned. The company dropped its experimental drug intepirdine after it failed to improve motor function in patients with a certain form of dementia — just three months after it also failed to show positive effects in Alzheimer's patients.

Looks like GlaxoSmithKline got a good deal when they sold the rights to intepirdine to Axovant Sciences in 2014.

Also at Bloomberg.

Related: Can we Turn Back the Clock on Alzheimer's?
Possible Cure for Alzheimer's to be Tested Within the Next Three Years
Mefenamic Acid Might Cure Alzheimers - Generic Cost in US is Crazy
New Alzheimer's Treatment Fully Restores Memory Function in Mice
Power Outage in the Brain may be Source of Alzheimer's
Another Failed Alzheimer's Disease Therapy
The FDA Saved Taxpayers from Paying Billions for Ineffective Alzheimer's Therapy
Alzheimer's Disease: A "Whole Body" Problem?
Bill Gates Commits $100 Million to Alzheimer's Research
Evidence That Alzheimer's Protein Spreads Like an Infection


Original Submission

Disputed Alzheimer's Study Links Decrease in Amyloid Levels to Reduction in Cognitive Decline 4 comments

Alzheimer's study sparks a new round of debate over the amyloid hypothesis

In the long-running debate over just what causes Alzheimer's disease, one side looks to have scored a victory with new results with an in-development drug. But there's enough variation in the data to ensure that the squabbling factions of Alzheimer's will have plenty to fight about.

At issue is the so-called amyloid hypothesis, a decades-old theory claiming that Alzheimer's gradual degradation of the brain is caused by the accumulation of sticky plaques. And the new drug is BAN2401, designed by Biogen and Eisai to prevent those amyloid plaques from clustering and attack the clumps that already have.

In data presented last week, one group of patients receiving BAN2401 saw their amyloid levels plummet, a result that was tied to a significant reduction in cognitive decline compared with placebo.

[...] But to skeptics, the trial was laden with confounding details that make it impossible to draw conclusions. "These results are a mess," wrote Baird biotech analyst Brian Skorney. "Not so much that they indicate an outright failure of the [amyloid] hypothesis, but they don't really say anything informative at all."

Related: Alzheimer's Disease: A "Whole Body" Problem?
Evidence That Alzheimer's Protein Spreads Like an Infection
Pfizer Halts Research Into Alzheimer's and Parkinson's; Axovant Sciences Abandons Intepirdine
Positive Result in Mice as Alzheimer's Drug Trials Fail and Regulatory Barriers Are Rolled Back


Original Submission

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  • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 08 2018, @09:43PM (8 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 08 2018, @09:43PM (#619728)

    So is Alzheimer's a prion disease, like CJD?

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by takyon on Monday January 08 2018, @09:48PM (1 child)

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Monday January 08 2018, @09:48PM (#619731) Journal

      Alzheimer's research is totally fucked. [soylentnews.org] Nobody is really sure what causes it or how to stop it.

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      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 09 2018, @01:28AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 09 2018, @01:28AM (#619808)

        oh fuck that is sad

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by Azuma Hazuki on Monday January 08 2018, @10:18PM (5 children)

      by Azuma Hazuki (5086) on Monday January 08 2018, @10:18PM (#619748) Journal

      From what little I know about it, it sounds like the amyloid conformation is a more stable one than the healthy structure, so while this probably isn't *transmissible* like vCJD or similar, once spontaneously established, it may have a similar progression...Christ, this is scary.

      --
      I am "that girl" your mother warned you about...
      • (Score: 2) by Hawkwind on Tuesday January 09 2018, @02:32AM (3 children)

        by Hawkwind (3531) on Tuesday January 09 2018, @02:32AM (#619835)
        That's my understanding too. I heard it described this way on a recent episode of Fresh Air
         

        On why the onset of Alzheimer's is often described as an "attack"
         
        In Alzheimer's disease, there is a huge buildup of these sticky clumps of proteins that we call plaques and tangles. In an Alzheimer patient's brain, the brain is literally littered with plaques and tangles. ...
         
        The brain is essentially under attack by the presence of these toxic proteins. And we know that also once Alzheimer's starts, the immune system kicks in. When the immune system kicks in, you get ... inflammation, which actually makes the whole process much worse in many ways. And so the brain cells are sort of struggling to stay alive. The immune system, to begin with we think, tries to heal the brain — tries to remedy the situation and clear away the plaques and tangles. But for whatever reason it seems to fail.

         
        https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/01/02/575055148/neuroscientist-predicts-much-better-treatment-for-alzheimers-is-10-years-away [npr.org]
         
        Seems like the big thing here is they've confirmed the role of tau in the human process (and not mice).

        • (Score: 3, Interesting) by rylyeh on Tuesday January 09 2018, @05:36AM

          by rylyeh (6726) <reversethis-{moc.liamg} {ta} {htadak}> on Tuesday January 09 2018, @05:36AM (#619877)

          There is this: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/specks-brain-alzheimers-plaque-forming-protein [sciencenews.org] which provides some hope assuming it also translates to humans from mice.

          --
          "a vast crenulate shell wherein rode the grey and awful form of primal Nodens, Lord of the Great Abyss."
        • (Score: 2) by Azuma Hazuki on Tuesday January 09 2018, @08:55PM (1 child)

          by Azuma Hazuki (5086) on Tuesday January 09 2018, @08:55PM (#620208) Journal

          I have a hypothesis, and as someone who isn't formally educated in medicine, this may be way off...but...bear with it for a moment:

          Do you suppose that some combination of diet, environmental factors, and plain old aging is degrading the amount of energy total in the cells' mitochondria, and being stuck too long in low energy states makes it hard to maintain the less-energetically-favorable but normal state of brain structure? That is, since the amyloid is a lower-energy state, could circulation problems, bad nutrition, oxidative damage, etc possibly be making it more likely for proteins to collapse into the diseased forms? Something something, quantum, metastable, etc. I don't know, just spitballing here.

          --
          I am "that girl" your mother warned you about...
          • (Score: 2) by Hawkwind on Wednesday January 10 2018, @03:01AM

            by Hawkwind (3531) on Wednesday January 10 2018, @03:01AM (#620320)

            Well, not my area, and the spit plus the something, but. Yeah, it seems like understanding is starting to come. We can stay tuned and see what comes next!

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 09 2018, @06:53PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 09 2018, @06:53PM (#620147)

        brought to you by the social security administration. no checks for you fuckers!

  • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Monday January 08 2018, @10:56PM (2 children)

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Monday January 08 2018, @10:56PM (#619757)

    Or: the infectious agent which makes tau spreads, wait for it.... like an infection.

    It it so farfetched to imagine that a virus, or any other self-replicating microbial entity, could manufacture tau as part of their normal life processes?

    Could this also mean that a tau-eating microbe might potentially cure, or at least mitigate, Alzheimers?

    --
    🌻🌻 [google.com]
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 09 2018, @12:14AM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 09 2018, @12:14AM (#619780)

      So no, that wouldn't help with already infected cells.

      Supposedly a while back there was experimental treatment using ultrasound waves (like for imaging a fetus in a pregnant mother) that with the proper pulse frequency/power was triggering flushing activities or breaking up the proteins without damaging the cells, allowing the body to flush them out, like it was claimed it normally does. I am not sure what happened to that research or if it was another false scientific study to drum up funding, but if it worked, that could be a huge boon, even if the primary source of issue doesn't become known for a while yet.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 09 2018, @03:10PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 09 2018, @03:10PM (#620025)

        Actually, it makes sense: if it spreads, it could be cut out, through neurosurgery. Affected parts of brain should be extracted to stop the spreading of disease.
        All that provided that we are now certain that the protein is not just a symptom, but also a damaging agent of disease, of course.

  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by optotronic on Tuesday January 09 2018, @02:58AM (4 children)

    by optotronic (4285) on Tuesday January 09 2018, @02:58AM (#619844)

    "We come down quite strongly in favor of the idea that tau is starting in one place and moving across neurons and synapses to other places," says clinical neurologist Thomas Cope, one of the study's authors.

    If this is the case, wouldn't it be theoretically possible to detect it early and cut it out like brain cancer? Better odds of survival than doing nothing, perhaps.

    • (Score: 5, Interesting) by JoeMerchant on Tuesday January 09 2018, @03:12AM (3 children)

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Tuesday January 09 2018, @03:12AM (#619850)

      Instead of cutting, I'd recommend MRI monitored fiber optic delivered laser thermal ablation... yes, that's a thing, and it's damned good at killing specifically targeted brain tissue.

      --
      🌻🌻 [google.com]
      • (Score: -1, Offtopic) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 09 2018, @03:22AM (2 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 09 2018, @03:22AM (#619853)

        yes, that's a thing, and it's damned good at killing specifically targeted brain tissue.

        Why, just like a bullet, only more fancily expensive.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 09 2018, @06:00AM (1 child)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 09 2018, @06:00AM (#619880)

          Yes, I remember when they livestreamed JFK's brain surgery.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 09 2018, @03:13PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 09 2018, @03:13PM (#620027)

            You are so old then ... maybe you don't really remember, but instead already have Alzheimer's?

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