Brain discovery explains a great mystery of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's
One of the great mysteries of neuroscience may finally have an answer: Scientists at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have identified a potential explanation for the mysterious death of specific brain cells seen in Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative diseases.
The new research suggests that the cells may die because of naturally occurring gene variation in brain cells that were, until recently, assumed to be genetically identical. This variation -- called "somatic mosaicism" -- could explain why neurons in the temporal lobe are the first to die in Alzheimer's, for example, and why dopaminergic neurons are the first to die in Parkinson's.
"This has been a big open question in neuroscience, particularly in various neurodegenerative diseases," said neuroscientist Michael McConnell, PhD, of UVA's Center for Brain Immunology and Glia (BIG). "What is this selective vulnerability? What underlies it? And so now, with our work, the hypotheses moving forward are that it could be that different regions of the brain actually have a different garden of these [variations] in young individuals and that sets up different regions for decline later in life."