2017-2018 Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases Research Award*

Is Amyloid Toxic for Glial Cells?

VCoA*The Virginia Center on Aging which administers the Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases Research Award Fund for the Commonwealth of Virginia, provides seed money to researchers in Virginia to stimulate innovative research into biomedical and psychosocial aspects of dementia, including cell biology, caregiving, and animal modeling.


Is Amyloid Toxic for Glial Cells?

Harald Sontheimer, PhD

Virginia Tech University

It is commonly assumed that amyloid contributes to functional impairment of neurons, albeit how amyloid is toxic to brain remains unclear. While plaques are found near neurons they are often close to brain support cells called astrocytes as well as along blood vessels. The astrocytes touch blood vessels throughout the brain and have been shown to support the integrity of the blood brain barrier (BBB) that prevent entry of blood born molecules into the brain. Astrocytes also regulate blood flow by releasing vasoactive molecules. The investigator has demonstrated that vascular amyloid separates the astrocytic attachments on blood vessels called endfeet. By forming a rigid cast around arterioles and penetrating arteries, the amyloid deposits hinder the release of vasoactive molecules and impair the regulation of blood flow. This funded study will now explore whether amyloid deposits also cause local impairment of blood flow and BBB integrity. The over-arching hypothesis is that amyloid impairs astrocyte function and therefore, vessel health and local regulation of blood flow. Obviously, impairments of blood flow will starve neurons of energy and could hasten their demise, thereby explaining the progressive dementia. These studies may show a completely unexplored pharmacological target.

(Dr. Sontheimer may be contacted at 540/526-2229, sontheimer@vt.edu)

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