British researchers have linked the lack of a particular protein in the brain to a higher risk of dementia. The findings, by scientists from the University of Warwick, are the first to suggest that that the absence of the protein — called the MK2/3 — is associated with early signs of dementia.
In the study, published in the journal Nature Communications
, the researchers explained that MK2/3 is central to ways in which information is processed in the brain, Medical News Today
Brain cells communicate via neurotransmitter chemicals that pass between tiny spines that protrude from neurons. The MK2/3 protein regulates the shape of spines in brain cells, and those that lack the protein have narrower, longer spines than properly functioning ones.
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What the researchers found was that the shape of the spines in the neurons without MK2/3 make the neurons less able to communicate with each other, which can lead to the memory lapses and learning disabilities commonly seen in dementia patients.
"Deterioration of brain function commonly occurs as we get older but, as result of dementia or other neurodegenerative diseases, it can occur earlier in people's lives," said lead researcher and author Sonia Corrêa, M.D.
"For example, washing the dishes; if you have washed them by hand your whole life and then buy a dishwasher it can be difficult for those people who are older or have dementia to acquire the new memories necessary to learn how to use the machine and mentally replace the old method of washing dishes with the new. The change in shape of the [brain cell spines] due to absence of MK2/3 is strongly correlated with this inability to acquire the new memories."
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