Degenerative brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and memory loss have begun to frighten modern man as mankind faces the prospect of delayed ageing and longevity that can be hampered by these irreversible disorders.
The fact that there is no cure for these progressive diseases is a sad fact, as many brilliant lives are squandered by this ailment, which primarily affects people in their golden years. Scientists claim that they have possibly figured out how Dementia, Parkinson’s, and many other brain disorders are caused by key cells called neurons dying over time in a study paper titled “Neurotoxic reactive astrocytes induce cell death via saturated lipids” published in the scientific journal NATURE on October 6th, 2021.
Researchers have now found other brain cells – known as astrocytes – play a ‘critical role’ in their death, reports The Daily Mail.
Is it some corruption in the programming code? This query arises out of the fact that these star-shaped cells usually help clear away toxic particles that build up in the brain naturally or after head trauma, and are supposed to nourish neurons.
But laboratory tests on mice show astrocytes also release toxic fatty acids to kill off damaged neurons, confirming a suspicion many neurologists have had for years, says the Daly Mail report.
Nailing the culprit that causes Dementia:
Lead researcher Professor Shane Liddelow, of New York University, said: ‘Our findings show the toxic fatty acids produced by astrocytes play a critical role in brain cell death.’
He added that the results provide a promising new target for treating, and perhaps even preventing, many neurodegenerative diseases.
Astrocytes — which take the shape of a star — were known to keep neurons in the brain nourished and healthy and regulate blood flow. But the NYU scientists say they are also responsible for killing decaying neurons.
Trying the Cure on mice:
- After coming up with the theory that two fatty acids were to blame, the NYU researchers tested it in mice with brain injuries. They genetically engineered half of the rodents to shut down the production of long-chain saturated free fatty acids and phosphatidylcholines, and compared them to a control group.
- In engineered mice, 75 per cent of neurons survived, while in normal mice only 10 per cent of the neurons survived.
- Astrocytes produced a neuron-killing molecule to clear up the damaged cells, researchers believe.
- It is not clear why astrocytes produce the toxins and the exact nature of the removal process was not understood.
In an earlier research paper in 2017, Professor Liddelow had written: “Finally, we show that A1 astrocytes are abundant in various human neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and multiple sclerosis. Taken together these findings help to explain why CNS neurons die after axotomy, strongly suggest that A1 astrocytes contribute to the death of neurons and oligodendrocytes in neurodegenerative disorders, and provide opportunities for the development of new treatments for these diseases.”
This research by Professor Liddelow and colleagues was published in the journal Nature, The lead author said their discovery could prove groundbreaking in future research to treat brain diseases, but at this stage — the technique used in mice is not ready to use on humans.