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Dissolving Alzheimer’s

Scientists are trying to stem the neurodegenerative disease by breaking down the plaque that accumulates in sufferers’ brains and destroys neurons.

By Anita Slomski // The MGH Research Issue 2011
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The telltale plaques of Alzheimer’s disease—dyed blue in these microscopic images—massacre more than half of the neurons in crucial memory and cognitive areas of the brain a decade or more before symptoms emerge. That’s what makes the disease so insidious. Bradley T. Hyman, director of the Massachusetts Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, based at MGH, is trying to determine how early to start treatment to halt the disease’s progress. In mice genetically engineered to mimic the memory impairments of Alzheimer’s, Hyman sends in antibodies (bottom image, in red) to break down and remove plaque and then observes how previously degenerated synapses re-form and reconnect into functional neural networks. “There is an amazing amount of plasticity in the brain even after neurons and synapses have been lost to disease,” Hyman says. “Now our challenge is to find the drugs and environment and lifestyle changes that will encourage that plasticity in people’s brains.”

BEFORE

Alzheimer's treatment

Courtesy of Tara Spires-Jones and Brad Hyman

AFTER

Alzheimer's treatment

Courtesy of Tara Spires-Jones and Brad Hyman

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