Scientists Find Evidence in Mice That Inherited Alzheimer’s Could Be Transmittable

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A new study out this week shows the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have found evidence in mice that an inherited form of mental illness can be transmitted through bone marrow. Although such a risk has not yet been proven in humans and may not be small if it occurs, the authors say more research needs to be done to investigate the possibility.

The study was led by scientists from the University of British Columbia. He was interested in studying the cells that make something called amyloid precursor protein (APP) – a protein that has several important functions but can also be converted into amyloid beta, a protein thought to cause Alzheimer’s disease. In those with Alzheimer’s disease, an abnormal and destructive form of amyloid beta builds up in the brain, eventually forming clumpy deposits called plaques (a similar process occurs with the tau protein).

Most of the time about Alzheimer’s disease they are caused by several factors that work together, such as age-related changes in the brain. But there are known genetic mutations that can make a person more likely to develop the disease, often at a younger age than usual. Some of these mutations involve the gene that controls the production of APP in cells. The cells that make APP are not only found in the brain, but throughout the body, including in our bones. So the authors, led by immunologist Wilfred Jefferies, were interested in finding out about the ability of these foreign cells to cause Alzheimer’s disease.

“So, we wondered if a type of Alzheimer’s disease could develop in mice after the injection of bone marrow from a diseased mouse into the blood of a normal mouse,” Jefferies told Gizmodo in an email.

The team began breeding mice with a version of APP that is found in humans, which would ensure their development of Alzheimer’s. They then removed the bone marrow from the mice into two other groups of mice: mice with a normal APP gene and mice bred to have no APP gene at all. After the transplant, both groups of mice began to have symptoms of cognitive impairment and obvious signs of Alzhemer’s, such as plaque buildup in the brain. Those lacking the APP gene got sick faster than expected, however, showing symptoms at six months of age (primary and normal APP-carrying mice started showing symptoms at about nine months).

results, printed Thursday in Stem Cell Reports, appears to indicate that “mutated genes in donor cells can transfer and cause” Alzheimer’s, Jefferies said. And while the APP-deficient mice developed the disease more quickly, the results show that even healthy people can be at risk of developing the disease.

Some scientists have found evidence that Alzheimer’s can be transmitted between people, even in very rare and specific situations, such as the administration of human growth hormone extracted from the brain of a cadaver (practices that have already expired). And if there is a real risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease through bone marrow, it is low.

But based on their findings, the authors “recommend further research into this,” Jeffries said. “We also recommend that people who donate blood, tissue, organs, and other types of cells be screened to prevent unknowing transmission of disease during transfusions and cell therapies.”

The authors plan to continue looking into the matter themselves. They want to better understand how stem cells fed with APP, which can turn into blood cells or platelets, rather than neurons, go on to cause Alzheimer’s disease. They also hope to learn whether certain types of blood transfusions can cause the disease or whether it is possible to treat Alzheimer’s disease by transplanting normal cells into people with the condition; Early animal trials involving stem cells have found otherwise reliable results of this method.

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