Alzheimer’s is an incredibly debilitating neurodegenerative disease that is becoming increasingly more common. It accounts for the majority of cases of dementia, with symptoms most often manifesting themselves after age 65. Nearly 30 million people worldwide suffer from Alzheimer’s, but researchers continue to have a difficult time understanding its cause, without which they will find it difficult to find a cure or even a remedy.
Previous research into Alzheimer’s has focused on the buildup of toxic plaques and proteins within the brain. What exactly causes that buildup and how that buildup affects Alzheimer’s has been the focus of much concerted study. But while the buildup of those plaques and proteins in the brain is the prime focus of research today, other researchers have found even more potential causes of Alzheimer’s.
Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) focused on the role played by pericytes, the cells that line the walls of the capillaries. They first analyzed the brains of healthy deceased adults and compared them against the brains of deceased adults who had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. They discovered that the brains of Alzheimer’s patients contained 50 percent fewer pericytes, and also had triple the levels of a protein called fibrinogen in white matter areas of the brain.
They then studied the brains of mice, again comparing pericyte-deficient mice with healthy mice. The pericyte-deficient mice demonstrated structural changes in white matter areas of the brain as early as 12-16 weeks and were also much slower in performing physical tasks. By the time the pericyte-deficient mice were 36-48 weeks old, they showed a 50 percent increase in leakage from blood vessels.
The researchers speculated that damage to pericytes in human beings could lead to the same result, increased blood leakage in the brain and buildup of fibrinogen in white matter areas, which leads to the development of dementia. If the results in mice carry over to human beings, that could indicate that damage to pericytes could begin as early as age 40, before the buildup of the toxic plaques and proteins that have until now been implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s. It will obviously bear some more study, but if a cause for Alzheimer’s can finally be pinpointed then it could help identify both preventive measures to prevent Alzheimer’s as well as a possible cure.