AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 27, Number 3, 2018

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Alzheimer’s breakthrough: brain metals that may drive disease progression revealed

Alzheimer’s disease could be better treated, thanks to a breakthrough discovery of the properties of the metals in the brain involved in the progression of the neurodegenerative condition, by an international research collaboration including the University of Warwick.

Dr Joanna Collingwood, from Warwick’s School of Engineering, was part of a research team which characterised iron species associated with the formation of amyloid protein plaques in the human brain – abnormal clusters of proteins in the brain. The formation of these plaques is associated with toxicity which causes cell and tissue death, leading to mental deterioration in Alzheimer’s patients.

They found that in brains affected by Alzheimer’s, several chemically-reduced iron species including a proliferation of a magnetic iron oxide called magnetite – which is not commonly found in the human brain –occur in the amyloid protein plaques. The team had previously shown that these minerals can form when iron and the amyloid protein interact with each other. Thanks to advanced measurement capabilities at synchrotron X-ray facilities in the UK and USA, including the Diamond Light Source I08 beamline in Oxfordshire, the team has now shown detailed evidence that these processes took place in the brains of individuals who had Alzheimer’s disease. They also made unique observations about the forms of calcium minerals present in the amyloid plaques.

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