Alzheimer’s disease damages the nervous system in many different ways. This is because the disease affects not only neurons but also other brain cells, such as the astrocytes. These support the normal function of neurons and are involved in the regulation of cerebral blood flow. Through experimental studies scientists of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) at the Bonn and Berlin sites have now gained new insights into how Alzheimer’s interferes with the metabolism of astrocytes. The research team also showed that the pathological changes of the astrocytes can be mitigated by pharmacological treatment. The triggering molecules turned out to be energy carriers of the cell such as ATP: These molecules can induce the astrocytes to switch into a hyperactive state, which is characterized by sudden fluctuations in the concentration of calcium. As the researchers describe in the scientific journal “Nature Communications“, their study suggests a novel potential approach for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Besides neurons, the brain harbors a variety of other cells with very specific functions. This image (tissue sample of a mouse with hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease) shows some of them. The projections of so-called astrocytes are colored white. Astrocytes support the function of neurons and are involved in the regulation of cerebral blood flow. In Alzheimer’s disease they alter their shapes and activity. This image also depicts the nuclei (blue) of astrocytes, neurons and other cells. The green structures stem from a protein associated with Alzheimer’s.
Credit: DZNE / A. Delekate, T. Schumacher, G. Petzold
Metabotropic ?P2Y1 receptor signalling mediates astrocytic hyperactivity in vivo in an Alzheimer’s disease mouse model. Andrea Delekate, Martina Füchtemeier, Toni Schumacher, Cordula Ulbrich, Marco Foddis, and Gabor C. Petzold. Nature Communications, 2014, doi: 10.1038/ncomms6422