Prolonged stress does ugly things and now, possibly lead to Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Researchers at the Munich-based University of Minho in Braga, Portugal, have shown that stress, and the hormones released during stress, can accelerate the development of Alzheimer disease-like biochemical and behavioral pathology. Protein deposits in nerve cells are a typical feature of Alzheimer’s disease: the excessive alteration of the tau protein through the addition of phosphate groups — a process known as hyperphosphorylation — causes the protein in the cells to aggregate into clumps. Nerve cells die as a result and those in the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex are important for learning, memory, and higher cognitive functions.

In this study, rats subjected to stress such as overcrowding and placement on a vibrating platform for one hour daily for one month showed increased hyperphosphorylation of tau protein in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. The animals that showed these changes in tau had deficient memories showing problems in the hippocampus area and impaired behavioral flexibility showing deficiency in the prefrontal cortex.

Less than 10 percent of Alzheimer cases are genetic. Previous studies have shown that stress leads to the formation of beta-amyloid, another protein implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. According to Osborne Almeida from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, their findings indicate that stress hormones and stress can cause changes in the tau protein like those that arise in Alzheimer’s disease. The next step will be to see if results obtained in animals are applicable to the development of non-familial forms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Related Article: Stress Significantly Hastens Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease

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Filed under: Alzheimer's DiseaseAlzheimer's Disease ResearchDementiaFrontotemporal DementiaPrevention

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