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Tracking Alzheimer’s-associated protein tangles spread through the brain

November 6, 2015
by Nicole Stempak, Associate Editor
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Researchers have tracked the movement of neurofibrillary tangles, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

Massachusetts General Hospital investigators found a version of the tau protein, rare even among people with Alzheimer’s, can spread from one neuron to another. Their findings have been released online in the journal “Nature Communications.”

“It has been postulated that tangles — the abnormal accumulation of tau protein that fills neurons in Alzheimer’s disease — can travel from neuron to neuron as the disease progresses, spreading dysfunction through the brain as the disease progresses. But how that happens has been uncertain,” says Bradley Hymnan, MD, PhD and senior author of the report in a news release.

The rare type of tau is released from neurons, taken up by other neurons, transported up and down axons and then released again.

“Our findings suggest that the release and uptake of this form of tau is an important step in the spread of disease from one brain region to another,” says Hyman, director of the hospital’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and the John Penny Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. “Since the spread likely underlies clinical progression of symptoms, targeting the mechanisms of the spreading might hold promise to stabilize disease.

Read the full study here.

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