How the Brain’s ‘Waste Removal System’ Influences Alzheimer’s Disease

While studying patients with Alzheimer’s, it is clear that their brains accumulate toxic proteins. This “molecular waste” includes tau and beta-amyloid.

As these toxic proteins build up in the brain, this waste disrupts cell communication. In turn, researchers believe this is a significant contributing factor in regards to cognitive decline.

A new study focused on the endolysosomal system, which is responsible for the removal of cellular waste. Their goal was to better understand the relationship between this system and the development of Alzheimer’s.

Study Finds a Connection Between Alzheimer’s and Our “Waste Removal System”

In the United States, there are currently around 5.7 million people living with Alzheimer’s. However, that number is expected to climb to nearly 14 million by the year 2050. To better understand what causes this disease, researchers from the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute investigated the endolysosomal system.

This system removes waste material from cells. Since there is an abnormal buildup of toxic proteins in Alzheimer’s patients, the researchers believe that this system likely holds critical clues.

At this time, it is unclear whether or not plaques (an accumulation of fragmented beta-amyloid) and tangles (twisted fibers of tau) cause Alzheimer’s, or if they are molecularly a part of Alzheimer’s progression.

What they found

As stated by the team of researchers, as we age, our endolysosomal system begins to work less efficiently. This means that excess brain waste buildups more easily, resulting in potentially detrimental effects. Their goal was to identify a set of genes tied to this waste removal system, which impact Alzheimer’s risk.

Based on their findings, which were published in the journal Brain, there does appear to be a genetic link between the genes associated with the endolysosomal system and one’s risk of Alzheimer’s. Although in its early stages, this research is an “important step” toward more effective treatment options.

Currently, one of the greatest challenges with Alzheimer’s disease is the lack of treatment that may slow or stop symptoms. This is why studying dysfunctions in the brain may help unlock new potential treatment strategies.

The Newly Discovered Glymphatic System

In 2012, scientists discovered a system that helps drain waste materials specifically from the brain. Throughout our body, a network of vessels helps remove and clear dead blood cells and other waste materials. This is known as the lymphatic system. However, the brain uses a different method.

Using a method known as 2-photon laser scanning microscopy, the researchers observed the movement of cerebrospinal fluid in mice brains. What they found, was that fluid seemed to flow along channels that surrounded blood vessels. They named this the “glymphatic system” — which is managed by glial cells (the cells that surround, support, and insulate neurons).

More importantly, the researchers wanted to see whether or not a defective glymphatic system would lead to a buildup of toxic waste in the brain. To test this theory, they injected amyloid beta into the brains of mice with a normal glymphatic system. In contrast, they also tested mice with a faulty glymphatic system. As they suspected, those with a faulty glymphatic system were not able to clear protein as efficiently.

Since these initial findings, the glymphatic system has been extensively studied. For example, researchers found that during sleep, the glymphatic system appears to open up, allowing fluid to more rapidly flow through the brain. You may also read more about the link between poor sleep and neurological health here.

Introducing the BrainTest® App

Although researchers are not entirely sure what causes Alzheimer’s, the brain’s ability to remove waste is a key area of interest. If you are currently experiencing any issues surrounding your cognitive health, please intervene as soon as possible.

The BrainTest® app can help you detect early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other cognitive impairments. Learn more and take your first test for free here.

Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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