FENS 2018: Immune system offers new way of treating Alzheimer’s disease

Written by Jade Parker, Future Science Group

Research presented at the FENS Forum of Neuroscience (7–11 July, Berlin, Germany) has demonstrated that boosting the immune system could offer a novel treatment modality for Alzheimer’s disease.

In recent years, researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science (Rehovot, Israel) have highlighted that the immune system protects the brain against Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. Additionally, their research has shown that the choroid plexus acts as an interface of the blood–brain barrier and that communication between the immune system and the brain is shut off as we age. 

“We turned traditional thinking on its head.  We now know that inflammation – instead of causing damage– protects the brain and is essential for repairing brain tissue,” explained Michal Schwartz (Weizmann Institute of Science).

In this latest study, the team studied mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease to restore the lost communication between the brain and the immune system. Through this, they demonstrated that activating the immune system drives a cascade of processes that bring in macrophages and other white blood cells that digest the damaged brain tissue.

Of note, the team found that boosting the immune activity improved memory and cognition mitigating the progress of the disease.

“We gave the mice antibodies to unleash the power of the immune system.  After a single injection we found that cognitive performance was improved, based on an assessment of spatial learning and memory skills.  The pathology decreased and neurons were rescued,” Schwartz added.

The findings indicate that directly targeting the immune system outside the brain, rather than specific factors that escalate the disease within the brain, leads to alteration of numerous processes that contribute to disease progress.

The next steps for the research will be selecting an antibody, finalizing the treatment regime and afterwards a clinical trial.

Sources: Schwartz M. How to harness systemic immunity to combat age-related dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Presented at: FENS Forum of Neuroscience, Berlin, Germany, 7–11 July 2018; https://forum2018.fens.org/contact-press/press-releases

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