AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 3, 2017

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The Brain’s Rejuvenating Cells

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease manifested by various neuronal pathological processes and a significant decline in brain function. Aggregates of beta-amyloid protein (“plaques”) accumulate within and between brain cells. Due to both structural changes and the weakening of chemical communication pathways, the junctions of neuronal networks (synapses) are lost. In addition, the cytoskeletal proteins of the axons lose their normal structure, impairing their function and causing massive neuronal death. The brain is a fragile and unique organ that has its own specially tailored immune system, separate from the rest of the body. The primary role of the brain’s immune cells, called microglia, is to recognize, disassemble and dispose of various substances that do not function properly in the brain from dying cells to various cell debris and protein aggregates. Yet microglia activity is under tight regulation to allow them to dispose of waste without harming adjacent healthy neurons that retain important information. 

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