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The immune system plays important, and sometimes surprising, roles in brain health. A new study in mice found that blocking components of the antiviral immune response may make the brain more resilient to the effects of abnormal tau – potentially preventing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Tau is a protein found in the brain. Abnormal tau can form aggregates called tau tangles – one of the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease – activating antiviral response pathways and interfering with normal brain function and cognition.

Researchers studied the effects of exposure to abnormal tau on microglia, the brain’s resident immune cells. They found that when microglia were exposed to abnormal tau, the mitochondria became “leaky,” releasing their DNA into the cellular fluid. The immune system inappropriately interpreted the leaked DNA as a viral attack, triggering an immune response that promoted the release of type-I interferon, a cytokine that drives the antiviral immune response. Interrupting the pathways involved in this response restored normal brain function.

These findings suggest that suppressing the inappropriate immune response to abnormal tau exposure could provide a means to prevent or treat the tau-associated pathologies common in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Learn about other strategies to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in this episode featuring Dr. Dale Bredesen.

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