Scientists shed new light on the mechanism of a common type of dementia – Innovita Research

Scientists shed new light on the mechanism of a common type of dementia

The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer‘s disease – most likely you already know that. However, other causes are not somehow less significant just because of smaller number of cases. Dementia with Lewy Bodies is the third most common form of dementia, but it still affects millions of people. A new study lead by the University of Edinburgh made some advancement in understanding how DLB forms.

Synapses are connection points between neurons, allowing them to transmit signals. Image credit: GerryShaw via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

DLB affects around 100,000 people in the UK alone. There is no cure, despite scientists making significant advancements all the time. DLB causes memory loss and issues with physical movement. Now scientists took a better look at how this conditions forms in the brain. They analysed brain samples from the patients and found significant protein build-ups in in vital parts of neurons that connect cells. These connections, called synapses, are key in normal brain function, because they allow chemical and electrical signals to flow between cells. Scientists stress that synapses are extremely important in healthy brain function and participate in memory formation.

This protein, called alpha-synuclein, is toxic was spotted in both sides of the synapses. This could mean that this protein travels from one cell to another by jumping through these connections. That could be the basic mechanism of the spread of DLB. Scientists analysed control samples as well – similar protein build-ups were not noticed in samples from Alzheimer’s patients or people who did not suffer from dementia. Tara-Spires Jones, one of the leaders of the study, said: “These discoveries should invigorate the search for therapies aimed at reducing synaptic damage and open the possibility of targeting the spread of alpha-synuclein through the brain, which could stop disease progression in its tracks”.

Synapses are around 5000 times smaller than the thickness of a sheet of paper. This makes them incredibly difficult to research. However, some patients are generous enough to donate their bodies to science to help accelerating the research. Alpha-synuclein clumps have been noticed in Dementia with Lewy Bodies before, but their effects were largely unknown. Scientists managed to take a peek at synapses using extremely powerful technology, which hasn’t been used in such research before.

This is just a first step towards curing DLB. However, every big journey starts with a small step. While DLB is not as common as dementia caused by Alzheimer’s and vascular conditions, it still should get proper scientific attention to find a cure quicker.


Source: University of Edinburgh