A study has found that blocking a receptor in the brain responsible for regulating immune cells could protect against the memory and behaviour changes seen in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
It was originally thought that Alzheimer’s disease disturbs the brain’s immune response, but this latest study, published in the journal Brain, adds to evidence that inflammation in the brain can in fact drive the development of the disease. The findings suggest that by reducing this inflammation, progression of the disease could be halted.
The team hopes the discovery will lead to an effective new treatment for the disease, for which there is currently no cure.
The researchers used tissue samples from healthy brains and those with Alzheimer’s, both of the same age. The researchers counted the numbers of a particular type of immune cell, known as microglia, in the samples and found that these were more numerous in the brains with Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, the activity of the molecules regulating the numbers of microglia correlated with the severity of the disease.
The researchers then studied these same immune cells in mice which had been bred to develop features of Alzheimer’s. They wanted to find out whether blocking the receptor responsible for regulating microglia, known as CSF1R, could improve cognitive skills. They gave the mice oral doses of an inhibitor that blocks CSF1R and found that it could prevent the rise in microglia numbers seen in untreated mice as the disease progressed. In addition, the inhibitor prevented the loss of communication points between the nerve cells in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s, and the treated mice demonstrated fewer memory and behavioural problems compared with the untreated mice.
Importantly, the team found the healthy number of microglia needed to maintain normal immune function in the brain was maintained, suggesting the blocking of CSF1R only reduces excess microglia.
Source: University of Southampton