Fri, 08/28/2015 - 5:30pm
Greg Watry, Digital Reporter
People with Alzheimer's disease have fat deposits in the brain. For the first time since the disease was described 109 years ago, researchers affiliated with the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM) have discovered accumulations of fat droplets in the brain of patients who died from the disease and have identified the nature of the fat. Image: Meritxell Garcia, CC by-nc-ndIn 1906 at the 37th Conference of South-West German Psychiatrists in Tübingen, German physician Dr. Alois Alzheimer elucidated symptoms of a disease that would later be named after him. He described the case of 51-year-old woman Auguste D., and her progressive symptoms of cognitive impairment, hallucinations and delusions. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, upon autopsy of Auguste D.’s brain, Alzheimer found “dramatic shrinkage and abnormal deposits in and around nerve cells.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 47.5 million people worldwide have dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease responsible for between 60 and 70% of cases.
According to research published in Cell Stem Cell, accumulations of fat droplets in the brain, which have been identified in deceased patients, may spur and hasten the development of the disease.
Researchers affiliated with the Univ. of Montreal Hospital Research Centre found significantly more fat droplets in the brains of nine patients with Alzheimer’s disease when compared with five healthy brains. A team of chemists used advanced mass spectrometry, and identified the fat deposits as “triglycerides enriched with specific fatty acids, which can also be found in animals fats and vegetable oils,” according to the university.
“We discovered these fatty acids are produced by the brain, that they build up slowly with normal aging, but that the process is accelerated significantly in the presence of genes that predispose to Alzheimer’s disease,” said co-author Karl Fernandes. “In mice predisposed to the disease, we showed these fatty acids accumulate very early on, at two months of age, which corresponds to the early twenties in humans. Therefore, we think that the build-up of fatty acids is not a consequence. but rather a cause of accelerator of the disease.”
Pharmacological inhibitors of fatty acid-producing enzymes do exist. Such molecules are being tested to determine their efficacy against fighting obesity.
According to Fernandes, the team successfully prevented the accumulation of fatty acids in the brains of mice predisposed to Alzheimer’s. “It significantly increased stem cell activity,” said Fernandes. “This is very promising because stem cells play an important role in learning, memory and regeneration.”
The university said the study supports the idea Alzheimer’s is a metabolic brain disease.
Currently, no treatments exist to suppress the disease’s progression, or reverse it, according to the WHO.