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Most researchers believe Alzheimer’s disease is caused by one of two proteins, one called tau, the other beta-amyloid. As we age, most scientists say, these proteins either disrupt signaling between neurons or simply kill them. A new UCLA study suggests a third possible cause: iron accumulation.
George Bartzokis, MD (RES ’87, FEL ’90), professor of psychiatry at the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, and his colleagues looked at two areas of the brain in patients with Alzheimer’s. They compared the hippocampus, which is known to be damaged early in the disease, and the thalamus, an area that is generally not affected until the late stages. Using sophisticated brain-imaging techniques, they found that iron is increased in the hippocampus and is associated with tissue damage in that area. But increased iron was not found in the thalamus.