Jun 23, 2014

Can the Brain Repair Itself, Fight Off, or Slow Down Alzheimer's Dementia?

While it is not well known, it is possible to make new brain cells at any age. This could mean that an active effort to make new brain cells could delay the onset of Alzheimer's. It might also mean that an activity program could delay the progression of the disease in patients living with Alzheimer's and related dementia.

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My mother did better than most Alzheimer's patients in the latter stages of the disease.

She was able to converse, color, write her name, and interact effectively with others. She did this even though her short term memory and ability to remember new events and information were gone for more than 5 years before she died and went to Heaven.

I did discuss this phenomena with the renowned Harvard neuroscientist and geneticist Rudy Tanzi. Rudy is also the  Chair of the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund Research Consortium, the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

I asked Rudy if it was possible that my mother was making new brain cells as a result of our daily routine and regimen. He answered , yes. I also asked if this was a possible explanation of why she seemed to be doing so much better than might have been expected. He also answered, yes.

New brain cells are made in the hippocampus region of the brain. The area of the brain that is first attacked in Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's, and other related dementia(s).

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My mother's, Dotty's, daily routine included:
I found the research summary presented below of great interest.

Self-repairing mechanism helps to preserve brain function in neurodegenerative diseases

The Gist
  • New research, led by scientists at the University of Southampton, has found that neurogenesis, the self-repairing mechanism of the adult brain, can help to preserve brain function in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Prion or Parkinson’s.
  • The progressive degeneration and death of the brain, occurring in many neurodegenerative diseases, is often seen as an unstoppable and irrevocable process. 
  • However, the brain has some self-repairing potential that accounts for the renewal of certain neuronal populations living in the dentate gyrus, a simple cortical region that is part of the larger functional brain system controlling learning and memory, the hippocampus. 
  • This process is known as neurogenesis.
The Findings

While increased neurogenesis has been reported in neurodegenerative diseases in the past, its significance is unclear. Now a research team, led by Dr Diego Gomez-Nicola from the Centre for Biological Sciences at the University of Southampton, has detected increased neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus that partially counteracts neuronal loss.
  • Using a model of prion disease from mice, the research identified the time-course of the generation of these newborn neurons and how they integrate into the brain circuitry. 
  • While this self-repairing mechanism is effective in maintaining some neuronal functions at early and mid-stages of the disease, it fails at more advanced phases. 
  • This highlights a temporal window for potential therapeutic intervention, in order to preserve the beneficial effects of enhanced neurogenesis.
Dr Gomez-Nicola  says:

“This study highlights the latent potential of the brain to orchestrate a self-repairing response.

The continuation of this line of research is opening new avenues to identify what specific signals are used to promote this increased neurogenic response, with views focused in targeting neurogenesis as a therapeutic approach to promote the regeneration of lost neurons.

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The study, which is published in the journal Brain, also involves Professor Hugh Perry and Dr Mariana Vargas-Caballero from the University of Southampton, as well as the Universities of Hamburg and Valencia. It is funded by the European Union Seventh Framework Programme and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

About Author

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room