Alzheimer's nerve damage 'caused by immune cells'

Alzheimer's nerve damage 'caused by immune cells'

German scientists claim to have taken a large step forward in understanding how Alzheimer's disease destroys brain cells.

According to a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the body's own immune cells may be responsible for the damage to the brain.

When Alzheimer's disease takes hold, clumps or "plaques" of proteins start to form in the brain and it has long been thought that these cause the damage, the report claims.

However, through the study of mice, professor Jochen Hearns and his team now believe that nerve cells, stressed by these plaques, chemically signal microglia immune cells for help.

It is the reaction of these immune cells that kills neurons in the brain nerve cells, Professor Hearns claims.

When the scientists blocked the chemical signal, nerve cell damage was prevented.

"We may be able to make use of these results to develop novel agents that can slow the rate of neuron loss by interrupting communications between the two cell types," said professor Hearns.

According to the Alzheimer's Society, one in 50 people between the ages of 65 and 70 have a form of dementia, compared to one in five people over the age of 80.

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