Scientists understand the pathology behind Alzheimer’s Disease, knowing that age is the greatest risk factor. But we don’t know why the brain deteriorates and the disease begins to progress between the ages of 60 and 70.
Delaware State University’s Michael Gitcho, an assistant professor of biological sciences, is researching what role a protein found in the brain, called TDP-43, has in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. The protein is present in about 50 percent of people with Alzheimer’s.
He recently published a paper in the journal Neurobiology of Disease.
Gitcho and a team of researchers took 9-month-old mice that have developed plaques - clumps of cells - on the outside of the brain cells. They increased, decreased, or turned off the protein in these mice to look at what happened to the plaques and tangles - clumps of cells on the inside of the brain.
What they found is when they turn on the gene at a low level, the plaque deposition changes.
“What we think is happening is when the plaques and tangles start to form, it turns on this gene to respond. And this gene responds to this to where it kind of accelerates the disease over time,” Gitcho said. “What we think is going on is that as this TDP-43 gene is turned on, we get a regulation of plaques and tangles that could accelerate the disease”
Gitcho said he has a vested interest in studying Alzheimer’s because his mother was diagnosed with it over 15 years ago. She lived with it for about eight years.
“It seemed like when mom was progressing, she couldn’t remember the short-term memories, but she could remember when she lived during the Depression, and was telling stories,” Gitcho said. “They were incredible as far as getting this other life when she was 12-14 years old, and then she would be come frustrated.”
One in three people die of Alzheimer’s. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.5 million Americans are living with it.