Some people’s brains can adapt to Alzheimer’s protein, scientists say

Researchers from the University of California – Berkeley say that having a more adaptable brain might be the key to not developing dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is linked to an accumulation of the protein beta-amyloid in the brain. But some people with a build-up of beta-amyloid don’t go on to have the disease, and scientists wanted to find out why.

They studied 22 healthy young adults plus 49 older adults, none of whom had any symptoms of dementia – although scans showed that 16 of them had a build-up of beta-amyloid in their brains. The researchers asked the participants to memorise different pictures while functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) monitored their brain activity.

They then asked the participants if certain descriptions matched what they had seen as well as asking them to pull up specific details. They found that all the groups had a similar level of recall. However, the more detail people with beta-amyloid deposits were able to remember, the harder their brains were working. The scientists suggest this means that some people’s brains are able to compensate for the factors that can cause Alzheimer’s in others’.

It’s not clear exactly why this is, but given that their brains were working so hard, it might be that keeping mentally alert is a factor. Previous studies have shown a link between mental stimulation and a lower risk of dementia, and Dr. William Jagust, who led the study, says that this might make our brains more flexible and better able to cope with challenges to its functioning as we age.

Image via David Foltz’s Flickr.

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Diane Shipley

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