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March 23, 2012

One of my favourite blogposts for the Wellcome Trust to date – missing neurons, cellular ‘cannibalism’, and a ‘murder’ mystery plot worthy of Hercule Poirot and his little grey cells. Plus, the lead author on the research is still a PhD student. Good stuff.

Wellcome Trust Blog

Alzheimer’s disease is characterised by the substantial loss of neurons (nerve cells) in the brain. However, when researchers examine the brains of people who have died with Alzheimer’s, they do not see more dead neurons than in people of the same age without Alzheimer’s. Thousands of cells missing, presumed dead, but how can we solve the mystery – and stop it happening in others – if there are no bodies?

To discover what’s going on, we have to consider what might be killing the neurons and how. Another characteristic of Alzheimer’s is the presence of ‘plaques’ of a substance called amyloid beta that accumulate in between brain cells. In the laboratory, a high concentration of amyloid beta will kill neurons directly, but it is likely that much lower concentrations of amyloid beta occur in Alzheimer’s patients’ brains in real life.

In this case, it seems that amyloid beta can recruit…

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