September 21, 2018

‘Zombie’ brain cells could hold key to combating Alzheimer’s, mouse study suggests

By Karl Oestreich

by Kashmira Gander

Targeting so-called "zombie cells" could hold the key to treating age-related conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study on mice. Also known as senescent cells, these units are neither useful nor dead, and are unable to replicate or develop distinctive characteristics. Newsweek magazine logoScientists believe zombie cells group together in a way that could trigger the development of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's, as well as physical ailments like osteoarthritis and atherosclerosis. The researchers at the Mayo Clinic who did the study, which was published in the journal Nature, genetically modified mice to have tangles of the tau protein—believed to contribute to Alzheimer’s disease—in their brains. They were also modified so senescent cells could be targeted. Darren Baker, a molecular biologist at the Mayo Clinic and senior author of the paper, told Newsweek: “Using a combination of unique mouse models and pharmacological means to eliminate these cells, we established that their presence in the central nervous system promotes pathologic alterations, including the accumulation of toxic aggregates of tau protein. Furthermore, we show that senescent cells drive neurodegeneration and loss of cognition in mice.”

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Additional coverage:
Japan Times, Removing ‘zombie cells’ deters Alzheimer’s in mice; South China Morning Post, The Australian, Mirror UK, Laboratory Equipment, Voice of America, The Economist, Science DailySFGate, Nature, New Atlas

Context: Zombie cells are the ones that can't die but are equally unable to perform the functions of a normal cell. These zombie, or senescent, cells are implicated in a number of age-related diseases. And with a new letter in Nature, Mayo Clinic researchers have expanded that list.

In a mouse model of brain disease, scientists report that senescent cells accumulate in certain brain cells prior to cognitive loss. By preventing the accumulation of these cells, they were able to diminish tau protein aggregation, neuronal death and memory loss.

"Senescent cells are known to accumulate with advancing natural age and at sites related to diseases of aging, including osteoarthritis; atherosclerosis; and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s," says Darren Baker, Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic molecular biologist and senior author of the paper. "In prior studies, we have found that elimination of senescent cells from naturally aged mice extends their healthy life span." You can read more about the study on Mayo Clinic News Network.

Contact: Sara Tiner




Tags: alzheimer's disease, Dr. Darren Baker, Newsweek, Parkinson's, Uncategorized, zombie cells

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