In 1901, when Alois Alzheimer first described his landmark case of a 51-year-old woman with dementia, he revealed the presence of two abnormal brain protein deposits, called amyloid plaques and tau tangles.
Dr. Keith Josephs and his colleagues from the Mayo Clinic now report finding a new protein in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
This new protein, TDP-43, has been linked to other neurodegenerative diseases, including Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia.
In the latest study, researchers looked at autopsies of 342 people who had enrolled in a study of aging. Subjects whose brains had the TDP-43 brain protein were 10 times more likely to have demonstrated mental impairment prior to death.
They also had a 98 percent probability of dementia, compared to an 81 percent chance in those who did not have TDP-43 in their brains.
These new findings may explain why some patients develop brain plaques and tangles, yet do not experience dementia.
This new finding also suggests that developing a method to detect the TDP-43 could offer a new way to determine a person’s risk for dementia.
Many studies have shown that taking anti-inflammatory drugs could lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
However, those studies did not confirm that drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen provided cognitive benefits in patients already suffering from dementia.
But recently, Dr. Clive Holmes and his colleagues at the University of Southampton in England reported that weekly injections of the anti-inflammatory arthritis drug etanercept benefited patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s dementia.
The patients who received the injections did not display cognitive decline after six months. Etanercept is used to treat autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis, decreasing blood levels of TNF-alpha, a protein cells release in response to inflammation. TNF-alpha may cause cell damage.
Further research may establish this treatment as an option for millions of Alzheimer’s patients.
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