Latest research evidence, from Duke University in the US, suggests that the immune system plays a part in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease (in mice). It appears that immune cells which attack nutrients in the brain may be an early trigger.
Microglia, which normally defend against infection in the brain, could be involved in the development of dementia. Some microglia change and become better able to break down an amino acid called arginine in the early stage of the disease in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s Disease. When these immune cells (microglia) consume the arginine nutrient with abnormal effectiveness this in turn impairs the immune system in the brain. Conversely, blocking this process, with a small-molecule drug which blocks the enzymes that break down arginine, appears to prevent development of Alzheimer’s characteristic brain plaques and stop memory loss in a mouse model of the disease. This research suggests that blocking the process of amino acid deprivation works to protect mice from developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
Note: It is not implied by the researchers that consumption of arginine supplements could be used to prevent or slow the development of Alzheimer’s Disease in humans. This is early stage research, and the results from animal studies do not usually translate into disease-modifying treatments without many years of further research and careful trials.
Gallagher, J. (2015). Dementia ‘halted in mice brains’. London: BBC Health News, April 15th 2015.
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Kan, MJ. Lee, JE. [and] Wilson, JG. [et al] (2015). Arginine Deprivation and Immune Suppression in a Mouse Model of Alzheimer’s Disease. The Journal of Neuroscience. April 15th 2015, 35(15): 5969-5982.