Alzheimer’s Disease Progresses sooner when exposed to Stress Hormones

Alzheimer’s Disease Progresses sooner when exposed to Stress Hormones

Researchers found that elderly Alzheimer’s patients have faster progression of developing brain plaque when stress hormones are elevated. Glucocorticoids containing medicine may also be contributing to the decline in mental ability. The stress hormones can help accelerate the development of brain lesions that damage the brain. The study was first reported in this week's issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

Frank LaFerla, professor of neurobiology and behavior, and a team of UCI researchers studied genetically altered mice by injecting them with dexamethasone, which is a glucocorticoid that is like the body’s stress hormones. Within only seven days of injection the mice brain had an increase of 60 percent more protein beta-amyloid which promotes protein fragments and plaque formation. There was also another protein called tau that increased in these mice. Tau contributes to the development of tangles in the brain which is also part of the destruction caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

“It is remarkable that these stress hormones can have such a significant effect in such a short period of time," LaFerla said. "Although we have known for some time that higher levels of stress hormones are seen in individuals in the early stages of Alzheimer's, this is the first time we have seen how these hormones play such a direct role in exacerbating the underlying pathology of the disease."

"This study suggests that not only is stress management an important factor in treating Alzheimer's disease, but that physicians should pay close attention to the pharmaceutical products they prescribe for their elderly patients," said Kim Green, who is a postdoctoral researcher in neurobiology and behavior and first author of the paper. "Some medications prescribed for the elderly for various conditions contain glucocorticoids. These drugs may be leading to accelerated cognitive decline in patients in the early stages of Alzheimer's."

"Although we expected that this drug, which, like the stress hormone cortisol, activates glucocorticoid receptors, might have some effect on plaques and tangles, it was surprising to find that such large increases were induced in relatively young mice," said James L. McGaugh, who is a research professor of neurobiology and behavior and co-author of the paper.

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