Researchers in Germany and San Francisco believe they have identified an antibody that binds to the brain’s immune cells and causes them to live longer, divide more quickly and better detect unwelcome substances such as the plaques believed to contribute to Alzheimer’s.
In a report published in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine, scientists from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet in Munich and Denali Therapeutics in San Francisco said that mice studies showed the antibody can cause the brain’s immune system to attack amyloid plaque more quickly.
Scientists believe that amyloid plaque buildup is one of the key causes of Alzheimer’s disease.
“We may have found a way to specifically remove particularly harmful forms of amyloid,” lead researcher Christian Haass said in a news release.
The researchers studied TREM2, a receptor on cell surfaces to which other molecules can attach. They believe that TREM2 can vary greatly from individual to individual and can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by putting the brain’s cells—known as microglia—into a dormant state, which prevents them from recognizing, absorbing and breaking down plaques and dead cells.
“Conversely we suspect that activation of the microglia could help to eliminate plaques and thus combat Alzheimer’s,” Haass said.
“TREM2 seems to play an important role,” he continued. “The receptor apparently helps to switch the microglia from dormant to active mode.”
However, Haass cautioned that further studies are required before they can test this approach in clinical trials.
“We have shown that our approach can work in principle,” Haass said. “However, there is still a long way to go before it can be tested in humans and additional data is necessary to validate this approach.”
The brain’s immune cells are increasingly being studied by researchers looking to fight Alzheimer’s and other dementias. In 2017, Being Patient spoke with Dr. Roxana Carare, a professor of clinical neuroanatomy and experimental neuropathology at the University of Southampton, about how the body clears protein plaques from the brain.
Another recent study found that “resetting” immune cells could help treat traumatic brain injury by delaying or preventing inflammation.