New Theory on the Cause of Alzheimer’s Progression

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Researchers say Alzheimer’s disease may start in several areas of the brain, rather than spreading from a single region. Tom Werner/Getty Images
  • Scientists say they believe Alzheimer’s disease may spread differently in the brain than previously thought.
  • They say Alzheimer’s starts in different regions of the brain, rather than spreading from a single area.
  • Experts say the research could lead to better diagnosis as well as new treatments for the disease.

Scientists say they may have discovered that Alzheimer’s disease progresses differently in the brain than previous research suggests.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge in England and Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts report that they believe Alzheimer’s doesn’t begin in a single area of the brain before spreading to other regions.

They say instead that by the time Alzheimer’s starts to grow, it is already present in multiple regions of the brain.

“The thinking had been that Alzheimer’s develops in a way that’s similar to many cancers: The aggregates form in one region and then spread through the brain,” Georg Meisl, PhD, first author of the paper and a researcher from Cambridge’s Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, said in a press release.

“But instead, we found that when Alzheimer’s starts, there are already aggregates in multiple regions of the brain and so trying to stop the spread between regions will do little to slow the disease,” he explained.

The researchers conducted their study using PET scans of those living with Alzheimer’s disease, together with postmortem samples of the brain from people who died with the disease.

They tracked the spread of tau, a type of protein that contributes to Alzheimer’s.

In Alzheimer’s disease, tau and another protein called amyloid-beta form tangles and plaques known as aggregates that cause the brain to shrink.

“Amyloid deposits in

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