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Bursts of Brain Activity May Protect Against Alzheimer's Disease

Tel Aviv University reveals missing link between patterns and Alzheimer’s

By: Leonard Carl
Published: April 22nd, 2013 in Health » World

Evidence indicates that the accumulation of amyloid-beta proteins, which form the plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients, is critical for the development of Alzheimer’s disease, which impacts 5.4 million Americans.

But it’s not just the quantity of these proteins that play a role in this insidious, unforgiving disease, but the quality too. The disease is triggered by an imbalance in two different amyloid species — in Alzheimer's patients, there is a reduction in a relative level of healthy amyloid-beta 40 compared to 42.

Dr. Inna Slutsky of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Sagol School of Neuroscience, with postdoctoral fellow Dr. Iftach Dolev and PhD student Hilla Fogel, have uncovered two main features of the brain circuits that impact this crucial balance. The researchers have found that patterns of electrical pulses, or spikes, in the form of high-frequency bursts and the filtering properties of synapses are crucial to the regulation of the amyloid-beta 40/42 ratio. Synapses that transfer information in spike bursts improve the amyloid-beta 40/42 ratio.

High-frequency bursts in the brain are critical for brain plasticity, information processing and memory encoding. To check the connection between spike patterns and the regulation of amyloid-beta 40/42 ratio, Dr. Dolev applied electrical pulses to the hippocampus, a brain region involved in learning and memory.

When increasing the rate of single pulses at low frequencies in rat hippocampal slices, levels of both amyloid-beta 42 and 40 grew, but the 40/42 ratio remained the same. However, when the same number of pulses was distributed in high-frequency bursts, researchers discovered an increased amyloid-beta 40 production.

"We hypothesize that changes in the temporal patterns of spikes in the hippocampus may trigger structural changes in the presenilin, leading to early memory impairments in people with sporadic Alzheimer's," explains Dr. Slutsky.

According to Dr. Slutsky, different kinds of environmental changes and experiences – including sensory and emotional experience – can modify the properties of synapses and change the spiking patterns in the brain. Previous research has suggested that a stimulant-rich environment could be a contributing factor in preventing the development of Alzheimer's disease, much as crossword and similar puzzles appear to stimulate the brain and delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.

The ability to monitor dynamics of synaptic activity in humans would be a step forward early diagnosis of sporadic Alzheimer's.

Related articles: Tel Aviv University, Alzheimer's Disease, Alzheimer's, Israel
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