Cholesterol manufactured in the brain key to development of Alzheimer’s

September 15, 2021
Cholesterol manufactured in the brain key to development of Alzheimer's

Cholesterol produced by cells called astrocytes is required for controlling the production of amyloid beta, a sticky protein that builds up in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease (Alzheimer’s), scientists have found. Not only associated with clogged arteries and heart disease, cholesterol is also made naturally by the body to produce hormones and carry out other important functions. Findings by scientists from the University of Virginia (UVA) School of Medicine, US, sheds new light on genes linked to cholesterol, the role of astrocytes, and their importance to the development of Alzheimer’s.

For a long time, scientists were uncertain if the dramatic changes in brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients was a side effect or an impart to the disease.  But UVA scientists have now discovered that the progression of Alzheimer’s is driven by the astrocytes’ making and distributing cholesterol to brain cells called neurons. While cholesterol levels are normally kept quite low in neurons, its buildup will increase amyloid beta production and, in turn, result in plaque formation.

Read: Brain metabolism cause of neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease

In experiments, blocking the astrocytes’ cholesterol manufacturing “robustly” decreased amyloid beta production in mice – the scientists believe further research will determine the process’ feasibility in people and will yield important insights that will benefit the battle against Alzheimer’s.

“Our data point to the importance of focusing on the production of cholesterol in astrocytes and the transport to neurons as a way to reduce amyloid beta and prevent plaques from ever being formed,” said Dr. Heather A. Ferris, of UVA’s Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism.

“If we can find strategies to prevent astrocytes from over-producing cholesterol, we might make a real impact on the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” Ferris said. “Once people start having memory problems from Alzheimer’s disease, countless neurons have already died. We hope that targeting cholesterol can prevent that death from ever occurring in the first place.”

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Category: Education, Features

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