An international team of researchers have uncovered the properties of iron species in the human brain, a breakthrough that could lead to better treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
The iron is tied to the formation of amyloid protein plaques, which are thought to be the cause of mental deterioration in Alzheimer’s patients.
The researchers discovered several chemically reduced iron species in the amyloid protein plaques of brains of Alzheimer’s patients, including a proliferation of a magnetic iron oxide called magnetite that is not commonly found in the brain.
“Iron is an essential element in the brain, so it is critical to understand how its management is affected in Alzheimer’s disease,” Joanna Collingwood, an associate professor at the University of Warwick’s School of engineering, said in a statement.
“The advanced X-ray techniques that we used in this study have delivered a step-change in the level of information that we can obtain about iron chemistry in the amyloid plaques,” she added. “We are excited to have these new insights into how amyloid plaque formation influences iron chemistry in the human brain, as our findings coincide with efforts by others to treat Alzheimer’s disease with iron-modifying drugs.”
In the study, the researchers extracted amyloid plaque cores from two deceased patients that had a formal Alzheimer’s diagnosis and scanned the cores to determine the properties of the minerals present using X-ray microscopy.
While the researchers were previously aware that the minerals form when iron and amyloid proteins interact with each other, they used advanced measurement techniques— including the Diamond Light Source 108 beamline— to detail how the processes that occur in the brain. They also observed the forms of calcium minerals found in the amyloid protein plaques.
The researchers now believe that the interactions between iron and amyloid produce the chemically reduced iron species, and could account for the toxicity that contributes to the development and progression of the disease.
The team was a collaboration between the University of Warwick and Keele University and included researchers from the University of Florida and The University of Texas at San Antonio.
There is currently no cure for any type of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. However, by delaying the onset of dementia by five years, the researchers believe they can save up to 30,000 lives per year.
The study was published in Nanoscale.