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Is ‘Friendly Fire’ in the Brain Provoking Alzheimer’s Disease?


April 24, 2018
By Alison Abbott

Neuroscientist Michael Heneka knows that radical ideas require convincing data. In 2010, very few colleagues shared his belief that the brain’s immune system has a crucial role in dementia. So in May of that year, when a batch of new results provided the strongest evidence he had yet seen for his theory, he wanted to be excited, but instead felt nervous.

He and his team had eliminated a key inflammation gene from a strain of mouse that usually develops symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The modified mice seemed perfectly healthy. They sailed through memory tests and showed barely a sign of the sticky protein plaques that are a hallmark of the disease. Yet Heneka knew that his colleagues would consider the results too good to be true...

And not all scientists assume that the role of the immune system in neurodegeneration stops with microglia. Neurologist Philip De Jager at Columbia University in New York is developing an Alzheimer’s therapy that is based on a microglial target, but says that cells from the rest of the body’s immune system, such as T cells, which are present in very low numbers in the brain, might also turn out to be relevant... [read more]