New insights on what causes Alzheimer's disease could arise from a recent discovery made by bioengineers from the University of California, San Diego. The finding concerns the infamous amyloid beta peptides -- fragments of which plaques are thought to play a role in Alzheimer's disease.
The bioengineers found that amyloid beta peptides spontaneously trigger calcium waves in purified cultures of astrocyte cells extracted from the cortex region of rat brains and grown in the lab. These calcium waves could be relevant for understanding the origin of Alzheimer's disease. The accumulation of amyloid beta fragments and sustained disruption of the calcium balance within cells are leading hypotheses for what causes Alzheimer's disease.
The work also adds to researchers' understanding of a class of cells found in the brain called astrocytes, which have become a hot research topic as evidence mounts suggesting that astrocytes in the brain's cortex do more than provide support to neurons.