Chronic Stress Spawns Protein Aggregates Linked to Alzheimer’s
Repeated stress triggers the production and accumulation of insoluble tau protein aggregates inside the brain cells of mice, say researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine in a new study published in the March 26 Online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The aggregates are similar to neurofibrillary tangles or NFTs, modified protein structures that are one of the physiological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. Lead author Robert A. Rissman, PhD, assistant professor of neurosciences, said the findings may at least partly explain why clinical studies have found a strong link between people prone to stress and development of sporadic Alzheimer’s disease (AD), which accounts for up to 95 percent of all AD cases in humans.
“In the mouse models, we found that repeated episodes of emotional stress, which has been demonstrated to be comparable to what humans might experience in ordinary life, resulted in the phosphorylation and altered solubility of tau proteins in neurons,” Rissman said. “These events are critical in the development of NFT pathology in Alzheimer’s disease.”
The effect was most notable in the hippocampus, said Rissman, a region of the brain linked to the formation, organization and storage of memories. In AD patients, the hippocampus is typically the first region of the brain affected by tau pathology and the hardest-hit, with substantial cell death and shrinkage.