Brain Cholesterol Linked to Increased Alzheimer’s Risk
Researchers have shown how cholesterol – a molecule normally linked with cardiovascular diseases – may also play an important role in the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
The international team, led by the University of Cambridge, have found that in the brain, cholesterol acts as a catalyst which triggers the formation of the toxic clusters of the amyloid-beta protein, which is a central player in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
The results, published in the journal Nature Chemistry, represent another step towards a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, which affects millions worldwide. The study’s identification of a new pathway in the brain where amyloid-beta sticks together, or aggregates, could represent a new target for potential therapeutics.
It is unclear if the results have any implications for dietary cholesterol, as cholesterol does not cross the blood-brain barrier. Other studies have also found an association between cholesterol and the condition, since some genes which process cholesterol in the brain have been associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but the mechanism behind this link is not known.
The Cambridge researchers found that cholesterol, which is one of the main components of cell walls in neurons, can trigger amyloid-beta molecules to aggregate. The aggregation of amyloid-beta eventually leads to the formation of amyloid plaques, in a toxic chain reaction that leads to the death of brain cells.