Mouse Models Show that Glial Cells Are a Good Target for Alzheimer’s Research

Here is a summary of some recent studies on Alzheimer’s disease.

Glial cells, from the Greek for “glue” are the new focus of neuroscientists looking for a way to combat Alzheimer’s disease. Two studies, one out of Stanford University and the other from Pennsylvania State University, report promising signs that activating the glial cells in mice with Alzheimer’s-like brains reverses memory loss and replaces neurons.

The first study, from Stanford, shows that a protein, EP2, stops the glial cells from working efficiently. Glial cells serve many roles in the brain, among them being the neurological equivalent of a housekeeper. Glial will clean up amyloid-beta plaques, which are found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. In mice in which EP2 is suppressed, the glial cells clean up the plaques which theoretically re-establishes nerve connections. Researchers believe that the presence and activation of EP2 protein might contribute to Alzheimer’s disease since this protein stops the housekeeping cells from doing their job.

The second study, from Penn State, researchers were able to form new neuronal cells from glial cells. They were only able to do this in a petri dish, but their preliminary results show improvement in mice.

It is only in the last several years that scientists have discovered the multiple jobs that glial cells perform. These preliminary results, while promising, are in mouse models. Success in mouse models in one step in multiple steps to eventually get to the clinical level. Also, particularly with complex systems like the brain, sometimes therapies do not readily translate from mouse models to primates or humans.

With those caveats in mind, research into glial cells is promising avenue for fighting these neurodegenerative diseases.

The Stanford research article in the Journal of Clinical Investigation is available for free online.

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