May 13, 2011

Do Copper and Cholesterol Play a Role in Alzheimer's Disease?

"This is the first study of the effect of intake of copper or trace metals on levels of the protein tau in the blood and brain...

Alzheimer's Reading Room

Dr. Larry Sparks
Researchers at Banner Sun Health Research Institute (BSHRI) have found further evidence linking copper to the increased probability of developing Alzheimer's disease, according to a study published in the current issue of the International Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, vol. 2011, Article ID 987023.

While the cause and progression of Alzheimer's disease are not completely understood, researchers believe the dementia is associated with plaques and tangles in the brain. In studying the brains of those with the disease, researchers have found gatherings of a substance called amyloid and tangled clumps of an additional protein formed when cells die, called tau.

The study, led by BSHRI researcher Dr. Larry Sparks, employed a cholesterol-fed model of Alzheimer's disease to investigate the relationship between Alzheimer's disease-like neurofibrillary tangle (NFT) neuropathology and tau protein levels as the main component of NFT. Researchers measured brain and plasma tau levels and semi-quantified NFT-like neuropathology in cholesterol-fed rabbits administered drinking water of varying quality – distilled, tap and distilled with copper – compared to animals receiving normal food and local tap water.

"Total tau levels in plasma were increased in all cholesterol-fed rabbits compared to animals on normal chow, regardless of quality of water," said Sparks. "These studies suggest the possibility that circulating tau could be the source of the tau accumulating in the brain."

Previously, copper has been implicated in the progression and possibly the cause of Alzheimer's disease as studies have shown the that increased copper intake significantly increases the rate of progression of Alzheimer's disease in the setting of elevated fat intake.

In the BSHRI study, Sparks and his team performed a pilot study of long-term dietary cholesterol in four groups of rabbits. One group was administered normal food and water and three groups were administered increasing levels of a cholesterol diet for five months. Significantly, plasma levels of tau increased by 40 to 50 percent in each of the cholesterol-fed animal groups after five months of the experimental diet.

"This is the first study of the effect of intake of copper or trace metals on levels of the protein tau in the blood and brain," Sparks added. "We have shown that there is increased tau neuropathology associated with increasing levels of tau in the blood and brain of the cholesterol-fed rabbit."
Sparks notes that while these most recent findings are provocative, these are preliminary data and require further replication and study.

About Banner Sun Health Research Institute

For 24 years, Banner Sun Health Research Institute, has been a leader nationally and internationally in the effort to find answers to disorders of aging including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and cardiovascular disease. The institute, together with its Arizona Alzheimer's Consortium partners, has been designated by the National Institutes of Health as one of just 29 Alzheimer's Disease Centers in the nation. The institute's Cleo Roberts Center for Clinical Research takes laboratory discoveries to clinical trials that foster hope for new treatments. Banner Health is Arizona's leading health care provider and second largest private employer.

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Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. The blog contains more than 2,680 articles with more than 512,100 links on the Internet. Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.

The Alzheimer’s Action Plan: The Experts’ Guide to the Best Diag­no­sis and Treat­ment for Mem­ory Prob­lems   The 36-Hour Day A Family Guide to Caring for People with Alzheimer Disease

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room