October 17, 2016

Could Microbes Cause Alzheimer's? Dr. Rudy Tanzi

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For this Alzheimer’s Talks, we were honored to have Dr. Rudy Tanzi share his fascinating new work on a microbial hypothesis of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Tanzi is the Vice Chair of Neurology and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital and a Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. He was chosen by the Geoffrey Beene Foundation as a ‘Rock Star of Science’ and is a Founding Member of our ResearchersAgainstAlzheimer’s network.


You can also read a full transcript, but here are a few key highlights:

What is this microbial hypothesis?

It postulates that microbial pathogens can rapidly induce amyloid plaques deposition as a defense mechanism of the brain’s innate immune system. Inflammation is triggered by amyloid accumulating in the brain and also a reaction of the brain’s innate immune system to protect itself from pathogens.

Could amyloid be accumulating in the brain as a defense response?

As we get older our blood-brain barrier starts to break down, our adaptive immunity starts to become a little less strong, and microbial pathogens can build up. His research has shown that brains with amyloid in them from Alzheimer’s patients had more antimicrobial activity than brains without amyloid and that beta amyloid is antimicrobial and does help fight infection.

What's next and possible treatment

Dr. Tanzi’s next work, the Brain Microbiome Project, funded by Cure Alzheimer’s Fund and Open Philanthropy, is to test in humans the hypothesis that the reason we have amyloid build-up is that over decades small amounts of low-grade infections and microbes are sneaking into the brain and triggering amyloid. By isolating the plaques and sequencing the RNA, they can determine whether there are common pathogens that drive the amyloid build-up and perhaps find a treatment to target those pathogens.

Thanks to Dr. Rudy Tanzi for sharing this fascinating theory and his thoughts on whether we will have a disease-modifying treatment in the next five years and the potential impact of vitamins and diet.