Study uncovers protein linked to cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease

Memory deficits associated with Alzheimer’s disease might be caused by an increase of an inflammatory protein in the brain known as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFα), a new study found. The new findings, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, could lead to a greater understanding of Alzheimer’s and subsequently more efficient treatment.

According to a team of researchers at the University of Otago, TNFα was identified as a potentially key factor in memory impairment due to its active role in the brain of patients with Alzheimer’s after a six-year study.

Although the inflammatory protein has been the subject of prior studies on Alzheimer’s and cognitive impairment, its neural overactivity hasn’t been fully understood.

“While TNFα has been linked previously with Alzheimer’s and memory studies, it has not been understood that neural overactivity can drive the production of this protein to inhibit memory mechanisms in the brain,” said Cliff Abraham, a researcher at the University of Otago’s Department of Psychology.

“There is a huge international effort aimed at preventing Alzheimer’s disease onset, or treating it once it develops. Lifestyle changes and improved healthcare are having some impact already in delaying onset,” Abraham explained.

“However, we still need drugs to treat those with the disease already and we hope our work adds to that body of knowledge to support further work on TNFα-based therapies which will improve the resilience of the brain to the pathological insults.”

“We are pleased with our findings that links this inflammatory protein to impaired memory mechanisms. It’s one more step forward towards finding a more effective treatment for Alzheimer’s than those currently available.”