Link between epilepsy and Alzheimer’s uncovered

Mar 19, 2009
A cortical neuron in red with amyloid deposits shown in green.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists have discovered what could be causing Alzheimer’s disease sufferers to go on to develop epilepsy.

An international team involving scientists at the University of Aberdeen has revealed that a protein in the - which accumulates in clumps in an Alzheimer's brain - is making too sensitive.

Overly sensitive nerve cells lose their ability to communicate coherently with other nerve cells. This then makes the brain susceptible to seizures, say researchers who today report their findings in the .

It is already known that patients with Alzheimer's disease can experience , but until now, a link between and Alzheimer's disease, and the actual cause for a connection, has not been understood.

Around one third of Alzheimer's patients are thought to suffer some degree of epilepsy and some with certain forms of the disease are 80 times more likely to suffer seizures than people without the condition.

Now scientists have discovered how beta-amyloid protein - a key component of the plaques that clog an Alzheimer's brain - is impacting on nerve cells in the brain.

Normal nerve cells communicate by sending electrical impulses to each other. But the scientists have found that this protein is causing cells to short-circuit and fire too many .

Professor Tibor Harkany, a University of Aberdeen neurobiologist, co-headed the research, which has produced the first major finding of a European Union-funded international collaboration trying to establish the molecular mechanisms behind in Alzheimer's disease.

Some of the work has also received funding from the Alzheimer's Research Trust, the UK's leading research charity.

Professor Harkany, Sixth Century Chair in Cell Biology and EMBO Young Investigator, said: "We have shown for the first time the actual cellular process that links epilepsy and Alzheimer's disease.

"Our findings could lead to a rethink of the type of drugs that are given to patients with Alzheimer's disease.

"Some drugs used in the treatment of memory impairment can unfortunately lower a patient's seizure threshold while anti-epileptic drugs can impair the already compromised cognitive functions of Alzheimer's patients.

"It may be that we need to look for new drugs that treat both diseases at the same time."

Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust said: "This study explains some of the link between Alzheimer's and epilepsy, adding a piece to the puzzle of what is happening in the brain during dementia.

"By understanding what is happening in the brain, researchers can work towards new and effective treatments that are so desperately needed by the 700,000 people in the UK with dementia."

Provided by University of Aberdeen (news : web)

Explore further: French firm announces multiple sclerosis drug breakthrough

Related Stories

Epilepsy drug shows potential for Alzheimer's treatment

Dec 08, 2008

A drug commonly used to treat epilepsy could help clear the plaques in the brain associated with Alzheimer's disease, according to researchers at the University of Leeds. The plaques are known to lead to the progressive ...

Investigating the causes of Alzheimer's

Nov 22, 2007

Scientists at the University of Bristol are investigating what causes the leaks that develop in blood vessels in Alzheimer's disease, thanks to funding from the UK's leading dementia research charity, the Alzheimer's Research ...

Scientists find new cause of Alzheimer's

Apr 19, 2006

Belgium researchers say they are the first to demonstrate the quantity of amyloid protein in brain cells is a major factor of Alzheimer's disease.

Anti-inflammatory drug blocks brain plaques

Jun 24, 2008

Brain destruction in Alzheimer's disease is caused by the build-up of a protein called amyloid beta in the brain, which triggers damaging inflammation and the destruction of nerve cells. Scientists had previously shown that ...

Link identified between Alzheimer's disease and glaucoma

Aug 06, 2007

UK scientists have shown for the first time that key proteins involved in Alzheimer's disease are also implicated in glaucoma, the major cause of irreversible blindness worldwide. Research carried out at the UCL Institute ...

Recommended for you

Team makes breakthrough in understanding Canavan disease

7 hours ago

UC Davis investigators have settled a long-standing controversy surrounding the molecular basis of an inherited disorder that historically affected Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe but now also arises in other populations ...

Finding the body clock's molecular reset button

10 hours ago

An international team of scientists has discovered what amounts to a molecular reset button for our internal body clock. Their findings reveal a potential target to treat a range of disorders, from sleep ...

A 'GPS' to navigate the brain's neuronal networks

10 hours ago

In new research published today by Nature Methods, scientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Harvard University have announced a "Neuronal Positioning System" (NPS) that maps the circuitry of the ...

Neurons constantly rewrite their DNA

11 hours ago

Johns Hopkins scientists have discovered that neurons are risk takers: They use minor "DNA surgeries" to toggle their activity levels all day, every day. Since these activity levels are important in learning, ...

Hate to diet? It's how we are wired

11 hours ago

If you're finding it difficult to stick to a weight-loss diet, scientists at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Research Campus say you can likely blame hunger-sensitive cells in your brain known ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.