School of Medicine

Does a dysfunctional biological clock increase Alzheimer’s risk?

Cpt. Allison Brager of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, presents sleep research findings at the Neuroscience 2018 conference in San Diego Monday. At left is Brian Lananna of Washington University in St. Louis and Eti Ben Simon of the Center for Human Sleep Science. (Image: San Diego Union-Tribune)

From The San Diego Union-Tribune

Disruption of the sleep-wake cycle is a well-recognized symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, but recent research suggests that a disorganized biological clock may also be a key driver of neurodegenerative disease.

An exploration of the circadian rhythm’s role in development of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia is among a flurry of findings to be presented this week at Neuroscience 2018, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience underway at the San Diego Convention Center.

On Monday morning Brian Lananna, a Washington University in St. Louis researcher [in the Musiek Lab, Department of Neurology], presented preliminary findings that show how hitting the mute button on circadian rhythms at the cellular level can damage neurons, the brain cells responsible for human cognition.

Working in petri dishes and mice, researchers disabled genes in astrocytes, the star-shaped cells that support neurons, causing them to stop producing a key protein which, when it dried up, led to a surge in damaging inflammation.

These results beg an intriguing question: Does an off-kilter circadian rhythm cause Alzheimer’s?

Lananna said probably not. There are many other patterns in play that many hypothesize involved the buildup of other proteins which, over time, result in devastating levels of memory loss.

But it is possible, Lananna said, that a disrupted biological clock accelerates a process that’s already underway.

“There is a lot of suggestive evidence, although not conclusive yet, that inflammation can be a driver in Alzheimer’s,” Lananna said. “It’s possible that if someone is already starting to develop Alzheimer’s that increasing inflammation through things like circadian disruption could be pushing the person over the edge or accelerating the progression.”

  Read more at the SD Union-Tribune.