Home » News » Untangling the Mysteries of Alzheimer’s

Untangling the Mysteries of Alzheimer’s

Untangling the mysteries of AlzheimersA characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease is the alteration of a protein that resides in the brain. The protein, called tau, is present in normal brains and is believed to be responsible for the health of nerve cells.

In the brain cells of people with Alzheimer’s, tau proteins combine into twisted structures known as “neurofibrillary tangles.” The presence of tangles defines the condition as Alzheimer’s.

However, although the tangles confirm Alzheimer’s, their precise role in Alzheimer’s pathology has long been a point of contention among researchers.

New research on the intermediary steps between a single tau protein unit and a neurofibrillary tangle confirms the significance of tau to Alzheimer’s. Scientists now believe the conglomeration of two, three, four, or more tau proteins — known as “oligomers” — are the most toxic entities in Alzheimer’s.

“What we discovered is that there are smaller structures that form before the neurofibrillary tangles, and they are much more toxic than the big structures,” said Rakez Kayed, University of Texas Medical Branch.

“And we established that they were toxic in real human brains, which is important to developing an effective therapy.”

According to Kayed, a key antibody enabled the research team to produce a detailed portrait of tau oligomer behavior in human brain tissue. The anitbody made it possible for researchers to use a variety of analytical tools to compare samples of Alzheimer’s brains with samples of age-matched healthy brains.

“One thing that’s remarkable about this research is that before we developed this antibody, people couldn’t even see tau oligomers in the brain,” Kayed said.

“With the antibody — called T22 — we were able to thoroughly characterize them, and also study them in human brain cells.”

Among the researchers’ most striking findings: in some of the Alzheimer’s brains they examined, tau oligomer levels were as much as four times higher as those found in age-matched control brains.

Other experiments revealed specific biochemical behavior and structures taken on by oligomers, and demonstrated their presence outside neurons — in particular, on the walls of blood vessels.

Investigators believe the discovery will foster renewed studies on Alzheimer’s. “We think this is going to make a big impact scientifically, because it opens up a lot of new areas to study,” Kayed said. “It also relates to our main focus, developing a cure for Alzheimer’s. And I find that very, very exciting.”

Source: University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston

Untangling the Mysteries of 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. (2018). Untangling the Mysteries of Alzheimer’s. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 3 Feb 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.