According to a study in the Journal of Experimental Medicine increased brain activity books the fluid levels of a protein linked to Alzheimer’s. The tau protein is one of the main hallmarks of Alzheimer’s. While this protein has been found in healthy brains, it is the first time researchers have noticed a link between the protein and brain activity.
Dr. David M. Holtzman, the senior author on the paper, said, “Healthy brain cells normally release tau into the cerebrospinal fluid and the interstitial fluid that surrounds them, but this is the first time we’ve linked that release in living animals to brain cell activity. Understanding this link should help advance our efforts to treat Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders associated with the tau protein.
The tau protein stabilizes the microtubules that transport supplies from the center of the cells to the end of cell branches. Alzheimer’s patients see a collection of these proteins that aren’t bound to the microtubules, becoming clumped and altered. This clumping and altering is called tangles.
Because of the regular patters of tau spread through the brain there has long been speculation that the altered tau moved through synapses. Research understanding how the tau moves and how the proteins communicate, is important to understanding how Alzheimer’s progresses.
“In Alzheimer’s disease, you first see clumps of tau in a region called the entorhinal cortex, and thin in the hippocampus, and it continues to spread through the brain in a regular patter. In another disorder, supranuclear palsy, tau clumps first appear in the brain stem and then spread to regions that the brain step projects to,” Holtzman explains.
So far, researchers have only been able to find single copies of the protein in the brain fluid. No clumps have been detected yet, but they are hopeful they can find the clumps. They believe that the brain can both secrete and take in clumps of the protein and that they may cause normal tau to become corrupted.
“We also want to know whether brain cells are secreting tau as waste or if tau has a function to perform outside the cell. For example there have been hints that tau may modulate how easy or difficult it is to get brain cells to communicate with each other.”
If corrupted tau can influence other tau proteins and clumps can be found outside the cells, researchers could have unlocked a part of the Alzheimer’s disease. This could lead to more effective treatments for those suffering from the disorder.