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Stress Accelerates Alzheimer’s

Could stress management and a change in anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive medication slow the development and progression of Alzheimer’s? Researchers from the University of California at Irvine believe this very well may be true.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects 4.5 million to 5 million adults in the United States. If no effective therapies are developed, it is estimated that 13 million Americans will be afflicted with the disease by 2050.

Stress hormones appear to rapidly exacerbate the formation of brain lesions that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, according to researchers at UC Irvine. The findings suggest that managing stress and reducing certain medications prescribed for the elderly could slow down the progression of this devastating disease.

In a study with genetically modified mice, Frank LaFerla, professor of neurobiology and behavior, and a team of UCI researchers found that when young animals were injected for just seven days with dexamethasone, a glucocorticoid similar to the body’s stress hormones, the levels of the protein beta-amyloid in the brain increased by 60 percent.

When beta-amyloid production increases and these protein fragments aggregate, they form plaques, one of the two hallmark brain lesions of Alzheimer’s disease. The scientists also found that the levels of another protein, tau, also increased. Tau accumulation eventually leads to the formation of tangles, the other signature lesion of Alzheimer’s. The findings appear in this week’s issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

“It is remarkable that these stress hormones can have such a significant effect in such a short period of time,” LaFerla said. “Although we have known for some time that higher levels of stress hormones are seen in individuals in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, this is the first time we have seen how these hormones play such a direct role in exacerbating the underlying pathology of the disease.”

The researchers injected four-month-old transgenic mice with levels of dexamethasone similar to the level of hormones that would be seen in humans under stress. At this young age, there would be little formation of plaques and tangles in the brains of the mice. After one week, the scientists found that the level of beta-amyloid in the brains of the animals compared to what is seen in the brains of untreated eight- to nine-month-old mice, demonstrating the profound consequence of glucocorticoid exposure. When dexamethasone was given to 13-month-old mice that already had some plaque and tangle pathology, the hormone again significantly worsened the plaque lesions in the brain and led to increased accumulation of the tau protein.

“Although we expected that this drug, which, like the stress hormone cortisol, activates glucocorticoid receptors, might have some effect on plaques and tangles, it was surprising to find that such large increases were induced in relatively young mice,” said James L. McGaugh, research professor of neurobiology and behavior and co-author of the paper.

The increased accumulation of beta-amyloid and tau appears to work in a “feedback loop” to hasten the progression of Alzheimer’s. The researchers found that the higher levels of beta-amyloid and tau led to an increase in the levels of the stress hormones, which would come back to the brain and speed up the formation of more plaques and tangles.

According to the researchers, these findings have profound implications for how to treat the elderly who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.

“This study suggests that not only is stress management an important factor in treating Alzheimer’s disease, but that physicians should pay close attention to the pharmaceutical products they prescribe for their elderly patients,” said Kim Green, a postdoctoral researcher in neurobiology and behavior and first author of the paper.

“Some medications prescribed for the elderly for various conditions contain glucocorticoids. These drugs may be leading to accelerated cognitive decline in patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.”

Source: The University of California, Irvine

Stress Accelerates Alzheimer’s

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Stress Accelerates Alzheimer’s. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 27, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2006/08/30/stress-accelerates-alzheimers/226.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.