Considering the Role of Metals in Neurodegeneration

From the Wall Street Journal, a good example of the way in which much of present day research gravitates towards applications that patch over end-stage consequences of disease rather than addressing root causes and prevention: "Research into how iron, copper, zinc and other metals work in the brain may help unlock some of the secrets of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Iron and copper appear to accumulate beyond normal levels in the brains of people with these diseases, and a new [study] shows reducing excess iron in the brain can alleviate Alzheimer's-like symptoms - at least in mice. ... Research into the complicated, invisible roles these metals play in brain diseases has lagged behind study of the more-visible proteins that are damaged or clump together in the brains of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's sufferers. But better understanding metals' role in the brain could help shed light on a range of medical conditions and might offer a new route for developing treatments. ... [Researchers] examined the amount of iron in the brains of mice that were bred unable to produce the tau protein, which helps stabilize the structure of neurons. Tau damage is associated with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. As the mice aged, they suffered symptoms similar to people with both diseases, including impaired short-term memory, and also exhibited an accumulation of iron in their brains. When the researchers gave them a drug removing excess iron, the symptoms reversed. This means normally functioning tau is necessary for removing iron in the brain ... The finding bolsters previous research showing that bringing down iron may be a path to new treatments. ... An accumulation of iron in neurons seems to be a final end-stage event in neurodegeneration, whether it be Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, [or] any [condition] related to tau abnormalities."




Posted by: Abelard Lindsey at February 2nd, 2012 1:32 PM

That's great info. One question though: iron is fundmental for our metabolism, so it all comes down to getting the right amount. How can you correctly balance it with your diet in order to achieve optimum?

Posted by: Mike at February 3rd, 2012 12:03 AM

@Mike - The accumulation of iron seen here is a consequence of underlying pathology. There's no evidence that dietary iron needs to be carefully "balanced" or that there's much of a dietary connection at all.

Posted by: Jose at February 4th, 2012 4:17 PM

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