Tweaking the brain’s immune system with a drug has prevented mice developing dementia, a study shows. The team at Duke University, in the US, showed immune cells which start attacking nutrients in the brain may be a trigger for the disease.
They say their findings could open up new avenues of research for a field that has not developed a single drug to slow the progression of the disease. Experts said the findings offered new hope of a treatment.
The researchers indentified microglia – normally the first line of defence against infection in the brain – as major players in the development of dementia. They found some microglia changed to become exceptionally adept at breaking down a component of protein, an amino acid called arginine, in the early stages of the disease. As arginine levels plummeted, the immune cells appeared to dampened the immune system in the brain.
In mouse experiments, a chemical was used to block the enzymes that break down arginine.
They showed fewer of the characteristics of dementia such as damaged proteins collecting in the brain and the animals performed better in memory tests.