Does iron accumulation in the brain contribute to the onset or progression of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease?
Ashley Ian Bush, M.D., Ph.D.
The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health
Although Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are distinct diseases, they may share some molecular mechanisms. For example, recent studies suggest that iron accumulates to higher than normal levels in the brains of people with either Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease. Iron is a metal important for most biological systems and is typically found in trace amounts in the body. But high levels of iron in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s suggest that it may have a role in the disease process.
Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is the specialized fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. CSF can be sampled from an individual to measure levels of iron-binding proteins, which will provide an estimate of iron levels in the brain. Dr. Ashley Bush, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues recently established a link between iron-binding proteins in the CSF of people with Alzheimer’s disease and the rate of disease progression. They also observed elevated levels of these proteins in the CSF of people with Parkinson’s disease. Furthermore, therapies that lowered iron levels in the CSF improved symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Dr. Bush and colleagues will investigate whether high iron levels in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease are related to the development or progression of disease. Their goal is to determine if the level of iron-binding proteins can be used as biomarkers to predict the development of disease or its severity. To do this, the researchers will measure levels of these unique proteins in the CSF of 1,481 people and follow each individual’s symptoms over time. They will also simultaneously measure other potential biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease (e.g. beta-amyloid and tau) to see if these in combination with iron-binding proteins improves the ability of scientists to predict disease progression.
The work of Dr. Bush’s team will provide insights on the role of iron in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. The research may also identify novel biomarkers for disease detection and serve as a foundation for future studies to determine if therapies that lower iron levels in the brain could prevent or treat Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
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