PhotoIn a study published in the journal Frontiers of Neuroscience, a team of scientists at the University of Adelaide theorize that there could be a potential link between iron in our cells and rare genetic mutations that cause Alzheimer’s disease. The theory could provide areas for further research moving forward.

“For 20 years most scientists have believed that a small protein fragment, amyloid beta, causes Alzheimer’s disease,” said Michael Lardelli, associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Adelaide. “Clearing out amyloid beta from the brains of people who are developing Alzheimer’s disease can slow their rate of cognitive decline. But, so far, nothing has been able to stop the relentless progression of the disease.”

Lardelli joined forces with Dr. Amanda Lumsden of South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute and Dr. Morgan of the University of Adelaide. The Adelaide researchers focus on the study of the genes that cause Alzheimer’s upon mutation, while Dr. Lumsden has studied the biology of how cells use iron, the group’s background thus paving the way for the future of this study.

The theory

The core of the researchers’ theory lies in how neurons in our bodies handle iron, with deficiencies potentially causing the disease to flourish.

“Cells need iron to survive. In particular, iron is essential for the tiny powerhouses of all cells -- the mitochondria -- to generate most of the energy that keeps cells functioning,” said Lardelli. “The genes mutated in inherited Alzheimer’s disease seem likely to affect how iron enters neurons, how it is recycled within neurons, and how it is exported from neurons.

“Since neurons have such huge energy needs, disturbing the way they handle iron can have serious, long-term consequences. Furthermore, iron is a key player in inflammation and in the production of damaging molecules named ‘reactive oxygen species,’ and both occur at high levels in brains with Alzheimer’s disease.”

As the researchers’ theory only deals with the way cells handle iron -- not how much iron is in a person’s body -- they are urging people not to make any diet changes or take any supplements based on this theory.

Despite the findings from the study, more research is required to better understand how mutations related to Alzheimer’s affect cellular iron.


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