Hyperactive neurons in specific areas of the brain are believed to be an early perturbation in Alzheimer's disease. For the first time, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) was able to explain the reasons and mechanisms underlying this early and therefore important neuronal dysfunction. They found that the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate persists for too long near active neurons. This causes a pathological overstimulation of those neurons – most likely contributing critically to impaired learning and memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients.
The brains of Alzheimer's patients who have already developed clinical symptoms contain large clumps of the protein beta-amyloid, known as plaques. Many therapeutic approaches focus on removing plaques, but such attempts have met with only limited success to date.
“It’s crucial that we detect and treat the disease much earlier. We therefore focused on hyperactive neurons, which occur at a very early stage – long before patients develop memory loss,” explains Professor Arthur Konnerth, Hertie Senior Professor of Neuroscience at the TUM and Principle Investigator at the MSB. As a consequence of hyperactivation, connected neurons in the circuits constantly receive false signals, leading to impairments in signal processing.
Together with his doctoral student Benedikt Zott and the entire research team, Konnerth succeeded in identifying the cause and trigger of this early disturbance in the brain. The discovery may open the way to new therapeutic approaches. The study appeared in the journal Science.