AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 27, Number 2, 2018

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Boosting Brain’s Immune Cell Function Reduces Alzheimer’s Symptoms in Mice

Scientists have known for about five years that mutations in the gene TREM2 increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Now, UCLA researchers have shown in mice that boosting levels of the TREM2 protein could help treat people with Alzheimer’s. TREM2 makes the brain’s immune cells more effective at fighting disease and protecting brain cells, they report.

“We showed that boosting TREM2 — at least in these mice and if you do it early enough — is beneficial,” said Dr. X. William Yang, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Having a therapeutic that could increase TREM2 levels or function should really be further explored.”

More than 5 million people in the United States — and 47 million people worldwide — currently are living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Efforts to uncover genetic variants that make people more prone to Alzheimer’s have recently pinpointed a number of genes that might contribute. In humans, researchers have discovered that subtle mutations in TREM2, which likely impair its function, markedly increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s in old age; only the gene APOE4 conveys a higher risk. In addition, more severe loss of TREM2 function leads to a rare genetic disease whose symptoms include early-onset dementia and bone fractures.

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