How Plaque Buildup Ages the Brain

It should come as good news that scientists are releasing the idea that as we age we lose a large amount of our brain cells. They have found valid evidence to believe now that we actually retain the vast majority of our brain cells, and recently there is evidence to show that we actually can grow new ones. This opens up the idea that our brains are more adaptable than neuroscientists had realized, and just because we get older does not mean we are guaranteed to lose our minds.

Degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, are not a natural part of aging.

There have been numerous studies to find the cause, and the correct treatment, to reverse – or at least slow down, the slow the effects that start to eradicate our memory. There have been great strides in their research, but they are still a long way off in bringing anything definitive to the public for consumption.

In the early 2000s, when the only way to study the brains of Alzheimer’s patients was after they died and their brains could be autopsied, researchers found that the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients were full of two kids of abnormal structures — plaques and tangles.

Plaque is the abnormal build-up of protein fragments, called beta-amyloid, in the spaces between the Alzheimer patient’s nerve cells of the brain. Tangles are an abnormal collection of a protein call tau, which are tangled threads inside the neurons. Although researchers are still trying to find out which of the two are the most significant, they are leaning toward the plaque formation as being the most significant to the disease’s progress.

An Irish drug company in New Jersey, Elan and Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, announced in 2001 that they had come up with a “vaccine” that, when injected into the patient’s arm, would stimulate the body’s antibodies so they were able to target and remove the beta-amyloid intruders forming the plaque in the brain. The procedure has been somewhat successful in mice, and safe for humans, they said. “Everybody is excited about AN-1792,” said Bill Thies, vice president of medical and scientific affairs for the Alzheimer’s Association. “It is going to be the first test of a critical theory about Alzheimer’s disease — whether lowering levels of amyloids halts the progression of the disease. Even if it fails, you’ll have a very important piece of information about the disease causes and process.”

It is unfortunate, but subsequent studies of the drug known as the “Alzheimer’s vaccine” have not been as effective as the creators had hoped. Positive results were found when attacking and reducing plaque buildup, but it didn’t fare much better than placebos in testing for memory and overall brain functions.

This could indicate that, although the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient does have heavy plaque buildup, the plaque may not be the main source of problems when it comes to the progression of the disease.

In the meantime, other teams of researchers are looking for ways to block or prevent the production of amyloids in the brain in the first place.

 Memory Training

About the author:

Ron White is a two-time U.S.A. Memory Champion and memory training expert. As a memory keynote speaker he travels the world to speak before large groups or small company seminars, demonstrating his memory skills and teaching others how to improve their memory, and how important a good memory is in all phases of your life.

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Passages — An-1792, the “Alzheimer’s vaccine”:


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