Stanford Studies Advance Knowledge on Alzheimer’s Functioning

Ana de Barros, PhD avatar

by Ana de Barros, PhD |

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shutterstock_160048451Even though Alzheimer’s disease is typically only diagnosed in the elderly population, the disease is already present in the brain long before symptoms become visible. Researchers at University of Stanford believe they have found a few promising signs that indicate the early presence of the disease in patients as a result of observing the development of symptoms. Dr. Carla Shatz of Stanford studied a molecule that she thinks may advance early Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

The PirB molecule, which is found in mice, is a protein that works as a brake, dialing down the fierceness of the immune response in cases where autoimmunity is being avoided by the body. It was already known that the molecule played an important role in the immune system, and ten years ago it was also discovered to be present in the brain as well. However, Schatz recently discovered that PirB also acts in the brain as a brake on the synapses, which are the small but crucial point of contact between nerve cell conveys signals.

“By the time visible symptoms of dementia appear and a patient first sees a doctor about it, this process has been under way for years,” explained Dr. Shatz, a professor of neurobiology and of biology and the director of Bio-X, Stanford’s interdisciplinary biosciences institute,to Bruce Goldman, at Medical Xpress.

During her investigations, Shatz came to realize that PirB-defient mice developed no symptoms of Alzheimer’s, even when they were carrying two mutations that are typically strongly predisposed to the disease, remaining completely healthy. Further trials led her to identify the human counterpart to Pirb, which is called LilrB2, leading Shatz to believe that it is possible to continue to investigate further in order to find a treatment for the disease.

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Another recent study also made major breakthroughs regarding the progression of Alzheimer’s. Dr. Tony Wyss-Coray, also from Stanford University, was able rejuvenate old brains by providing mice with young blood plasma. In a clinical trial, the scientists gave old mice blood from younger mice and noted that their tests of spatial learning, memory, and other cognitive functions were better, as well as they observed numerous other positive neurophysiological changes.

“Exposure to young blood late in life is capable of rejuvenating an old brain’s nerve-cell function and behavioral performance,” explained Wyss-Coray, who believes that the discovery may lead to the development of new pharmacological methods of preventing or delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s.