Nav: Home

Alzheimer's breakthrough: Brain metals that may drive disease progression revealed

June 21, 2018

  • Breakthrough in description of metals in brain which may drive the progression of Alzheimer's disease, made by international research collaboration, including University of Warwick
  • In brains affected by Alzheimer's, researchers identify chemically reduced iron species, with mineral forms including a magnetic iron oxide which they hypothesize are produced during formation of amyloid protein plaques
  • Understanding the impact and management of these metals could lead to more effective future therapies for Alzheimer's


Alzheimer's disease could be better treated, thanks to a breakthrough discovery of the properties of the metals in the brain involved in the progression of the neurodegenerative condition, by an international research collaboration including the University of Warwick.

Dr Joanna Collingwood, from Warwick's School of Engineering, was part of a research team which characterised iron species associated with the formation of amyloid protein plaques in the human brain - abnormal clusters of proteins in the brain. The formation of these plaques is associated with toxicity which causes cell and tissue death, leading to mental deterioration in Alzheimer's patients.

They found that in brains affected by Alzheimer's, several chemically-reduced iron species including a proliferation of a magnetic iron oxide called magnetite - which is not commonly found in the human brain - occur in the amyloid protein plaques. The team had previously shown that these minerals can form when iron and the amyloid protein interact with each other. Thanks to advanced measurement capabilities at synchrotron X-ray facilities in the UK and USA, including the Diamond Light Source I08 beamline in Oxfordshire, the team has now shown detailed evidence that these processes took place in the brains of individuals who had Alzheimer's disease. They also made unique observations about the forms of calcium minerals present in the amyloid plaques.

Understanding the significance of these metals to the progression of Alzheimer's could lead to more effective future therapies which combat the disease at its root.

Dr Joanna Collingwood, Associate Professor at the University of Warwick's School of Engineering and expert in trace metals analysis, high resolution imaging, and neurodegenerative disorders, commented:

"Iron is an essential element in the brain, so it is critical to understand how its management is affected in Alzheimer's disease. The advanced X-ray techniques that we used in this study have delivered a step-change in the level of information that we can obtain about iron chemistry in the amyloid plaques. We are excited to have these new insights into how amyloid plaque formation influences iron chemistry in the human brain, as our findings coincide with efforts by others to treat Alzheimer's disease with iron-modifying drugs."

The team, led by an EPSRC-funded collaboration between University of Warwick and Keele University - and which includes researchers from University of Florida and The University of Texas at San Antonio - made their discovery by extracting amyloid plaque cores from two deceased patients who had a formal diagnosis of Alzheimer's.

The researchers scanned the plaque cores using state-of-the-art X-ray microscopy at the Advanced Light Source in Berkeley, USA and at beamline I08 at the Diamond Light Source synchrotron in Oxfordshire, to determine the chemical properties of the minerals within them.

They also analysed the magnetic state of the iron species in the plaques to confirm the presence of various iron minerals including the magnetic iron oxide magnetite.

The research team propose that interactions between iron and amyloid that produce the chemically reduced iron species, including magnetite, may account for toxicity that contributes to the development and progression of Alzheimer's.

There are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, with numbers set to rise to over 1 million by 2025. This will soar to 2 million by 2051.

There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease or any other type of dementia. Delaying the onset of dementia by five years would halve the number of deaths from the condition, saving 30,000 lives a year.
-end-
Notes to editors:

The research, 'Nanoscale synchrotron X-ray speciation of iron and calcium compounds in amyloid plaque cores from Alzheimer's disease subjects', is published in Nanoscale. Read paper here.

DOI 10.1039/C7NR06794A

It is authored by James Everett, Joanna F. Collingwood, Vindy Tjendana-Tjhin, Jake Brooks, Frederik Lermyte, Germán Plascencia-Villa, Ian Hands-Portman, Jon Dobson, George Perry and Neil D. Telling.

This work was supported by EPSRC grants EP/K035193/1 (JFC), EP/N033191/1-EP/N033140/1 (JFC-NDT), the Alzheimer's Association (AARFD-17-529742), University of Warwick alumni donations (VTT, JE), the RCMI Program from NIH at UTSA (5G12RR013646, G12MD007591), San Antonio Life Sciences Institute (SALSI)-Clusters in Research Excellence Program, and Semmes Foundation.

The University of Warwick's School of Engineering is one of the leading unified engineering schools in the UK. The department's research was ranked third in the Research Excellence Framework 2014 for General Engineering.

University of Warwick

Related Dementia Articles:

Flies the key to studying the causes of dementia
A research team from the University of Plymouth, University of Southampton and the Alexander Fleming Biomedical Sciences Research Center, Vari, Greece, have studied two structurally-similar proteins in the adult brain and have found that they play distinct roles in the development of dementia.
Stroke prevention may also reduce dementia
Ontario's stroke prevention strategy appears to have had an unexpected, beneficial side effect: a reduction also in the incidence of dementia among older seniors.
Dementia: The right to rehabilitation
Rehabilitation is important for people with dementia as it is for people with physical disabilities, according to a leading dementia expert.
One in 4 elderly Australian women have dementia
At least a quarter of Australian women over 70 will develop dementia according to University of Queensland researchers.
Rural dementia -- we need to talk
Research carried out by Plymouth University into the experience of dementia in farming and farming families, and its impact on their businesses and home lives, has identified four areas of concern which need to be addressed if dementia in the countryside is to be managed.
Women with dementia receive less medical attention
Women with dementia have fewer visits to the GP, receive less health monitoring and take more potentially harmful medication than men with dementia, new UCL research reveals.
Dementia on the downslide, especially among people with more education
In a hopeful sign for the health of the nation's brains, the percentage of American seniors with dementia is dropping, a new study finds.
New study suggests rethink of dementia causes
University of Adelaide researchers have developed a new theory for the causes of dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases, involving an out-of-control immune system.
Bleeding stroke associated with onset of dementia
Bleeding within the brain, or intracerebral hemorrhage, was associated with a high risk of developing dementia post stroke, according to research presented at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference 2016.
Dementia: New insights into causes of loss of orientation
The University of Exeter Medical School led two studies, each of which moves us a step closer to understanding the onset of dementia, and potentially to paving the way for future therapies.

Related Dementia Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#529 Do You Really Want to Find Out Who's Your Daddy?
At least some of you by now have probably spit into a tube and mailed it off to find out who your closest relatives are, where you might be from, and what terrible diseases might await you. But what exactly did you find out? And what did you give away? In this live panel at Awesome Con we bring in science writer Tina Saey to talk about all her DNA testing, and bioethicist Debra Mathews, to determine whether Tina should have done it at all. Related links: What FamilyTreeDNA sharing genetic data with police means for you Crime solvers embraced...