Alzheimer’s is one of those well-known diseases about which we actually know very little. One of the things that we had already ascertained is that it is related to the accumulation of chains of molecules (beta-amyloid) in neurons. Now we know one more thing: when these beta-amyloids accumulate in the cells, the temperature of the cells increases. We owe this advance to research in a relatively unknown field: intracellular thermogenesis, or the study of the internal temperature of cells. The results have been published in the magazine Journal of the American Chemical Society.
What exactly has been discovered?
Beta-amyloids are one of the key proteins in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. These proteins accumulate forming a kind of fibers or “plates”, and now thanks to this latest study we know that these accumulations cause the temperature of the cells to rise significantly. Until now we were aware that this accumulation of plaques was related to cell death and brain wasting and with it from memory.
The presence of the plates caused the laboratory samples used for their study to increase their temperature by an average of 2.8 degrees Celsius, although not the entire cell is heated equally. It may not seem like an excessive temperature, but this increase in temperature has the same effect as frying an egg: “as it heats up, the proteins begin to clump together and cease to be functional”, explica Gabriele Kaminski Schierlea professor at Cambridge University who has led the research.
The study authors further point out that the release of heat can also set off a chain reaction, causing “healthy” beta-amyloid to start aggregating as well.
A new avenue for new treatments?
We still don’t know why these proteins accumulate in the cells of the body, but now we have a better idea of what happens when this accumulation occurs, but it also tells us how they spread from one cell to neighboring cells, “infecting the healthy beta-amyloid from these cells” in palabras de Chyi Wei Chungco-author of the study.
The study should be able to serve in the future to help in the diagnosis and treatment of a currently incurable disease. The team managed to reverse the increase in temperature by adding a compound to the cell, a molecule whose function would be to stop the creation of beta-amyloid plaques in the cells.
More tests will be necessary to demonstrate the potential of this substance for the treatment of Alzheimer’s. As we well know, the process between the discovery of a substance with therapeutic properties and its implementation as a drug is long and often unsuccessful, but the team of researchers considers that this substance has the potential to start that path.
An analysis based on cutting-edge technology.
The analysis has been based on the study of cell cultures in the laboratory, where it has been possible thanks to the development of highly accurate temperature meters. These thermometers are not only capable of analyzing the temperature in areas inside a human cell but also have high sensitivity. Without the development of these devices such an analysis would probably have been impossible.
The burden of Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is a difficult disease to study for several reasons, mainly because its evolution is slow and because it is unleashed in the brain. It is estimated that it affects 44 million people in the world. In Spain the number is close to a million peoplealthough the estimates vary. According to the Fundación Alzheimer España, it affects the 20% of people over 80 years old.
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