NEW ORLEANS — The smoking gun for Alzheimer’s disease was discovered years ago, but new research has closed in on who pulls the trigger.
Brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease are riddled with plaques. Those plaques are made up of fibers composed of a protein fragment known as amyloid-beta, or A-beta. Tangles of another protein called tau snarl inside nerve cells of the patients’ brains. Plaques and tangles are signs that neurons have been murdered. Most researchers agree it’s the soluble forms of A-beta and tau that actually stage the killing, but they don’t agree on which molecule is the triggerman.
The debate has remained unsettled largely because researchers have mostly focused on how the plaques and tangles form, and that’s too late in the disease, contends George Bloom, a cell biologist and neuroscientist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. By then, diseased brain cells are all but wearing toe tags.
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