Alzheimer’s Might Be Transmissible in Certain Circumstances, Research Suggests

Margarida Azevedo, MSc avatar

by Margarida Azevedo, MSc |

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Alzheimer's disease study

New research from the University of Zurich and Vienna Medical University contradicts the conventional and more accepted theory that Alzheimer’s disease is not transmissible.

Alzheimer’s-like pathology was detected in the brains of patients who received dura mater grafts and later died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The research paper, “Amyloid-β pathology and cerebral amyloid angiopathy are frequent in iatrogenic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease after dural grafting,” was published in the journal Swiss Medical Weekly.

Alzheimer’s, a neurodegenerative disease characterized by the accumulation of amyloid plaques in the brain, death of neurons, and progressive dementia, has always been regarded as a non-transmissible disease. But researchers reported that when mice were injected with plaques recovered from the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, the plaques induced the formation of further plaques, suggesting a possible transmission.

The team investigated patients who had received dura mater — a leathery membrane that covers and protects the brain and spinal cord — from donors, a transplant usually performed after neurosurgery to allow brain tissue to heal. It was discovered that some of the dural mater donors had been infected with agents that cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, transmitting them to the patients through the grafting procedure.

Researchers examined brain tissues from seven patients who died of the disease and reported that five of them presented amyloid plaques, a higher number when compared to those who did not receive any dura mater grafts. The researchers theorize that the plaques may have been caused by the dural grafts, especially because amyloid plaques are highly unusual in young people.

“The presence of Aβ pathology in young individuals is highly unusual and suggests a causal relationship to the dural grafts. Further studies will be needed to elucidate whether such pathology resulted from the seeding of Aβ aggregates from the grafts to host tissues,” the authors wrote in a press release.