A new way to prevent the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease may have been discovered.
A new study, published on August 17 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), reveals that the cholesterol present in the brain regulate the production of beta-amyloid protein (Aβ), the same which aggregates into amyloid plaques, one of the causes of the appearance of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Long underestimated according to researchers, the role of cholesterol present in the brain is in fact essential. The study results also help explain why genetic studies link the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease to the presence of a cholesterol-transporting protein called apolipoprotein (apoE).
“We have shown that cholesterol essentially acts as a signal in neurons which determines the amount of Aβ produced. It is therefore not surprising that apoE, which transports cholesterol to neurons, influences the risk of Alzheimer’s disease ”, commented Prof. Scott Hansen, who co-led the study, in a communicated.
One of the most important biological characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease is the presence of insoluble aggregates of a type of protein Aβ, aggregates which collect in plaques. These plaques then cause neurons to malfunction, “suffocated” by these aggregates, and then their death.
The researchers here performed a series of experiments on aged mice that were genetically modified to overproduce beta-amyloid protein and develop amyloid plaques, making it a good laboratory model. When they stopped the production of cholesterol in the brain, the production of Aβ dropped to near normal levels, and the plaques almost completely disappeared.
By confirming and clarifying the role of brain cholesterol in Aβ production, the study suggests that the targeting of this process deserves to be explored in an attempt to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
However, there is no question of purely and simply eliminating the production of cholesterol in the brain, since it is necessary for good brain health, especially at the cognitive level, note the researchers. The mechanism of interest would rather be on the side of the cholesterol transport protein, apoE, some variants of which are associated with a greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease.