Alzheimer’s targets brain cells that help people stay awake
For Alzheimer’s patients, daytime drowsiness is often a big problem. Now, thanks to a new study conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, we may know why. Researchers have found that the disease destroys command centers in the brain that work to keep people awake.
First discussed in Alzheimer’s and Dementia on August 12, 2019, the results indicate that sleeping disorders are more than just an early sign of Alzheimer’s. Instead, according to Lea Grinberg, a University of California neuropathologist, sleep disturbances are “part of the disease.”
Led by Grinberg, researchers paid careful attention to the brain stem and the hypothalamus, which sits just above it. Both are parts of the nervous system and play a crucial role in keeping people awake and alert. In previous studies, there has been little focus on the brain stem and hypothalamus. Grinberg reports that during this study, researchers looked for any signs of tau, a protein that can create tangles within the nerve cells and is usually seen in the postmortem brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients.
According to Grinberg, both the hypothalamus and brain stems were packed with tau. In two of the three areas, people had lost more than 70% of their neurons, or nerve cells. Grinberg says, “These areas are hit hard and they are hit by tau.” This damage could be one of the reasons Alzheimer’s patients are often so groggy and tired during the day, even when they’ve slept well the night before.
This discovery bolsters a theory that has been considered among a circle of Alzheimer’s researchers for years, but has yet to gain much traction. Bryce Mander, a neuroscientist and assistant professor in the Department of Human Behavior and Psychiatry at the University of California, Irvine, says, “You see tau in the brain stem, and you see it really early.”
Mander continued by saying, “We can’t continue to ignore the brain stem if we think about these dementias and how they progress.”
As a result, it is highly likely that the newest dementia research will focus on the brain stem’s sleep-wake centers. This could help researchers gain a better understanding of when, where, and how Alzheimer’s disease initially attacks the brain, as well as how to identify it earlier. It’s even possible the research could lead to a breakthrough on how to stop the damage
Researchers also looked at samples from healthy people and from people with two other degenerative brain disorders, corticobasal degeneration and progressive supranuclear palsy. Both brain disorders are affected by the accumulation of tau. The researchers found that in every instance, the neurons responsible for waking survived. Despite the accumulation of tau in corticobasal degeneration and progressive supranuclear palsy, fewer neutrons in these patients’ brains died.
According to Mander, this unusual finding “unveils a mystery,” specifically,
“Why are these neurons dying more in Alzheimer’s disease than in other diseases?”
These studies involved late-stage Alzheimer’s disease patients in their sample. Currently, Grinberg is in the midst of starting a larger study of brain tissue from people in various stages of Alzheimer’s diseases. The goal of the study is to identify exactly when the neurons in the wake-promoting pockets begin to decline.
To your health,
The Healing Miracle Team
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