Diabetes patients are at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to healthy people, but the specific relationship between glucose and Alzheimer’s was not well understood until now.
In a new study, researchers from the University of Bath in the U.K., working with colleagues at the Wolfson Centre for Age Related Diseases at King’s College London, have shed light on the link between high blood sugar levels and Alzheimer’s disease by observing a reaction known as glycation, a damaging process in which glucose abnormally bonds to proteins.
“Excess sugar is well known to be bad for us when it comes to diabetes and obesity, but this potential link with Alzheimer’s disease is yet another reason that we should be controlling our sugar intake in our diets,” said Dr. Omar Kassaar at the University of Bath.
By comparing the brain samples of people with Alzheimer’s to those without, the researchers discovered that in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, the process of glycation damages an enzyme called MIF (macrophage migration inhibitory factor) which plays a role in immune response and insulin regulation.
MIF is involved in the response of brain cells called glia to the build-up of abnormal proteins in the brain during Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers believe that inhibition and reduction of MIF activity caused by glycation could be the tipping point in Alzheimer’s disease progression. It appears that as Alzheimer’s progresses, glycation of these enzymes increases.
“Normally MIF would be part of the immune response to the build-up of abnormal proteins in the brain, and we think that because sugar damage reduces some MIF functions and completely inhibits others that this could be a tipping point that allows Alzheimer’s to develop,” said Professor Jean van den Elsen of the University of Bath Department of Biology and Biochemistry.
Worldwide there are around 50 million people with Alzheimer’s disease, and this figure is predicted to rise to more than 125 million by 2050. The global social cost of the disease runs into the hundreds of billions of dollars since Alzheimer’s patients often require constant care.
“Knowing this will be vital to developing a chronology of how Alzheimer’s progresses and we hope will help us identify those at risk of Alzheimer’s and lead to new treatments or ways to prevent the disease,” said Dr. Rob Williams, also from the Department of Biology and Biochemistry.
The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Source: University of Bath