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Immune cells may protect against Alzheimer’s

May 28, 2016
by Nicole Stempak, Senior Editor
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Inflammation may help prevent, not cause, Alzheimer’s disease.

Clusters of immune cells in the brain once thought to cause Alzheimer’s disease may actually protect against it, according to a new study published online in the journal Neuron.

“It suggests we should be enhancing the function of these immune cells, not trying to suppress it,” says Jaime Grutzendler, MD, senior study author and associate professor of neurology and neuroscience at the Yale University School of Medicine, in a university news release.

Researchers from Yale, the University of Washington and Washington University studied how the byproducts of large numbers of immune cells, microglia, reduced amyloid plaque formation, a hallmark of the disease.

“These cells act as a physical barrier that prevents outward expansion of plaques and, therefore, makes them less toxic to the connections between surrounding brain cells,” Grutzendler says.

They found mice with a rare mutation for the TREM 2 gene, and its human equivalent, had plaques in the brain covered with spiky, fluffy fibers that prevent microglia from surrounding them. TREM 2 and its human equivalent seem to be critical to containing the spread of amyloid plaques and preventing cognitive loss. People with the genetic mutation are about 10 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than the general population. 

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