School of Medicine

New strategy reduces brain damage in Alzheimer’s and related disorders, in mice

Astrocytes are normal non-neuronal brain cells, but in their reactive form they can harm, rather than protect, brain tissue. Mice with tau tangles in their brains — a model of Alzheimer’s and related diseases — have fewer reactive astrocytes (green) in their brains when treated with the drug digoxin (left) than untreated mice (right). Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have discovered that targeting astrocytes reduces tau-related brain damage and inflammation in mice, a finding that could lead to better therapies for Alzheimer’s and related tauopathies. (Image: Carolyn Mann)

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common and best known of the tauopathies, a set of neurodegenerative brain diseases caused by toxic tangles of the protein tau. A study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has shown that targeting astrocytes — an inflammatory cell in the brain — reduces tau-related brain damage and inflammation in mice.

The findings, available online in Science Translational Medicine, highlight the pivotal role of astrocytes in driving brain damage in tauopathies, and open up new avenues toward better therapies for the group of devastating and difficult to treat conditions.

“Brain inflammation is emerging as a contributor to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and that inflammation is driven by non-neuronal cells in the brain, including astrocytes,” said senior author Gilbert Gallardo, PhD, an assistant professor of neurology. “Our study highlights that inflamed astrocytes are contributing to tau-associated pathologies and suggests that suppressing their reactivity may be beneficial in reducing brain inflammation and delaying Alzheimer’s progression.”

Read more.