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Tags: dendrites | synapses | immunity | glutamate

How Brain Connections Are Destroyed

Friday, 18 May 2018 04:10 PM Current | Bio | Archive

A tremendous amount of new research indicates that processes that cause inflammation in the body also cause a loss of cognitive ability — that is, the ability for a person to remember, learn, speak clearly, and focus attention.

Approximately 10 percent of people over age 65 will suffer from mild cognitive impairment (MCI). A significant number of these individuals, though not all, will progress to dementia.

As the human brain ages, it is not actually the neurons (brain cells) that are lost, but rather the connections between them — dendrites, synapses, and axons.

These connections are far more numerous than the neurons themselves.

In fact, neural connections number somewhere in the trillions.

Because the neurons are still alive, there is a chance that the connections can be repaired and cognitive loss can be reversed.

Therefore, it is vitally important to find out what is destroying these connections.

And there is compelling evidence that it is the brain’s special immune cells, the microglia, that are doing the dirty work.

In normal, youthful brains, these microglial immune cells are rather calm, and become active only when they are needed to repair damage to neural connections or to fight an infection.

Yet as we age, these microglia change their behavior and assume a state in which they are referred to as “primed.”

When this occurs, the microglia drastically increase production of inflammatory chemicals and the excitotoxin glutamate.

But they do not automatically release any of these destructive chemicals. The chemicals remain inside the microglia.

In this way, the primed microglia are like a car with its engine revved up but the brake is engaged. In this primed state the microglia are not causing inflammation of the brain and are thus not harmful — at least not yet.

However, if a person with microglia in this primed state experiences an immune stimulation somewhere in his or her body, it can trigger these microglia to become fully activated.

And then the brake is released.

The body has special immune pathways to the brain that can allow rapid activation of brain microglia following inflammation signals from the body.

At that point, the microglia release a host of very destructive inflammatory chemicals, free radicals, prostaglandins, and excitotoxins into the surrounding brain.

This massive release of chemicals from the fully activated microglia begins to strip away dendrites, axons, and synapses — a process that can take place over many years, causing damage to the brain.

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Approximately 10 percent of people over age 65 will suffer from mild cognitive impairment (MCI). A significant number of these individuals, though not all, will progress to dementia.
dendrites, synapses, immunity, glutamate
Friday, 18 May 2018 04:10 PM
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