A Provocative Hypothesis

Could infections, including those too mild to elicit symptoms, explain the origins of the plaques that pockmark the brains of people with Alzheimer’s?

That provocative hypothesis was tested by a Harvard team working in neurons growing in petri dishes as well as in yeast, roundworms, fruit flies and mice. Their study, described by others and “innovative” and “novel,” was published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

The Times’ Gina Kolata describes it this way: “A virus, fungus or bacterium gets into the brain, passing through a membrane—the blood-brain barrier—that becomes leaky as people age. The brain’s defense system rushes in to stop the invader by making a sticky cage out of proteins, called beta amyloid. The microbe, like a fly in a spider web, becomes trapped in the cage and dies. What is left behind is the cage—a plaque that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s.”

The New York Times
 

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