Researchers with Université Laval, CHU de Québec and GlaxoSmithKline have found a way to stimulate the brain's natural defense mechanisms in Alzheimer's patients. This discovery is a major step toward developing effective methods to both treat and prevent the disease.
While the causes of Alzheimer's are not entirely understood, one of the main known characteristics of the illness is the production of a molecule called amyloid beta, which leads to the formation of senile plaques. Microglial cells, which act as the nervous system's immune cells, are unable to eliminate amyloid beta.
The researchers found a molecule that stimulates the activity of these microglial cells. The molecule is monophosphoryl lipid A (MPL), and it is used in vaccines. It has been shown time and again to be safe. MPL's effectiveness in stimulating microglial cells was discovered by administering weekly MPL injections over a twelve-week period to mice with Alzheimer's symptoms. The injections eliminated up to 80% of senile plaques, and the mice showed significant improvement in cognitive function as well.
MPL could be used to stimulate the natural immunity of people already suffering from Alzheimer's, thus slowing the progression of the illness. The molecule could be incorporated into a vaccine designed to stimulate production of amyloid beta antibodies, which could be administered to those who have risk factors for developing Alzheimer's.