Anesthetic May Affect Tau Spread in the Brain to Promote Alzheimer’s Disease Pathology

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During the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, a protein called tau accumulates and spreads in the brain. Understanding the mechanisms behind tau spread–and its consequences–may point to new prevention and treatment strategies for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

New insights now come from research that was led by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and involves an anesthetic known to affect cognitive function.

The findings are published in Communications Biology.

The scientists note that inflammation plays an important role in Alzheimer’s disease, and microglia–immune cells that reside in the brain–are thought to be involved in this process by producing an inflammatory molecule called interleukin-6.

To see if tau stimulates microglia to drive the development of Alzheimer’s disease pathology, the MGH investigators and their colleagues conducted experiments with an inhaled anesthetic called sevoflurane.

Their previous work showed that sevoflurane can cause a change (specifically, phosphorylation, or the addition of phosphate) to tau that leads to cognitive impairment in mice.

Other researchers have also found that sevoflurane and certain other anesthetics may affect cognitive function.

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