Brain inflammation may be more of a factor in dementia than previously believed, a new British study suggests.
“We predicted the link between inflammation in the brain and the buildup of damaging proteins, but even we were surprised by how tightly these two problems mapped on to each other,” said co-author Thomas Cope of the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge.
The findings could lead to new treatments for several types of dementia, his team said.
Brain inflammation has been linked to depression, psychosis, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.
In this study, the researchers investigated whether brain inflammation is also associated with other types of dementia.
They used brain scans to assess 31 patients with three types of frontotemporal dementia (FTD). FTD is a family of conditions caused by the buildup of abnormal “junk” proteins in the brain.
In all three types of FTD, the more inflammation there was in each part of the brain, the greater the buildup of harmful junk proteins, the study found.
To confirm that link, researchers analyzed 12 brains donated after death.
“There may be a vicious circle where cell damage triggers inflammation, which in turn leads to further cell damage,” study co-author Richard Bevan Jones said in a university news release.
James Rowe, a professor of neurosciences at the Cambridge Center for Frontotemporal Dementia who was also on the research team, described the findings as important.
“The illnesses are in other ways very different from each other, but we have found a role for inflammation in all of them,” he said in the release.
“This, together with the fact that it is known to play a role in Alzheimer’s, suggests that inflammation is part of many other neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease. This offers hope that immune-based treatments might help slow or prevent these conditions,” Rowe added.
The study was published March 17 in the journal Brain.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more on dementia.
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