Dr. Jon Brown led a team of scientists to study how speed-sensitive nerve cells in a specific part of the brain known as the entorhinal cortex can be affected in Alzheimer’s disease.
Almost a million people in the UK have dementia. People living with the most common form, Alzheimer’s disease, can have trouble figuring out where they are, which means that even in familiar environments, it is often lost. New research funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK at the University of Exeter Medical School sheds new light on why this might happen.
The brain contains specialized nerve cells called « velocity sensitive cells » that change their rate of fire depending on how fast someone is moving. Similar to a speedometer in a car, these nerve cells code how fast and thus how far a person has traveled. This process helps us to know where we are in relation to our location and to navigate our surroundings.
In this study, Dr. Jon Brown set up a team of scientists to study how these speed-sensitive nerve cells in a specific part of the brain known as the entorhinal cortex could be affected in Alzheimer’s disease.
They studied this in mice with features of Alzheimer’s disease. The mice produced the tau protein – a protein characteristic of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
The team found that about 60% of nerve cells were speed sensitive in normal mice, while a much lower proportion (13%) were speed sensitive in mice with disease characteristics.
The team believes this malfunction will disrupt other elements of our internal map, and the team found that other cells in the mice that produce the toxic tau protein were not working.
“People with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias can have severe spatial memory deficits, which means that they are often lost even in familiar surroundings. We must understand this if we are ever to offer treatments for this distressing symptom.
“Our discovery has shown that cells, which act like a“ speedometer ”and feed information into the neuronal map of the brain, do not seem to function properly in the brain of people with dementia. This could help solve part of the puzzle. If this is transferred to humans, new avenues for possible treatment could be identified. ”
“We often hear heartbreaking stories of people with dementia getting lost and unable to find their way home, and we know that such spatial navigation difficulties are some of the earliest warning signs of the disease.
“Research shows that brain changes associated with diseases like Alzheimer’s begin decades before symptoms like memory loss begin. For future Alzheimer’s treatments to be effective, they will likely need to be given in the earliest stages of the disease, before there is too much damage to the brain.
“Supporting such basic research is incredibly important in order to expand our knowledge of how the disease works. With the ongoing pandemic affecting people with dementia and our fundraising campaigns, we are incredibly grateful to our dedicated supporters. ”
Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, research, brain
World news – AU – The brain’s ‘speedometer’ could help solve part of the dementia puzzle
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