A new study into the alzheimer’s condition may have discovered a new possible source; fungi. Observations by neuroscientists suggests a high percentage of individuals with alzheimer’s have fungal material in the brain.
Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative condition where an individuals’ cognitive abilities progressively decline over time. It is generally thought to occur after the age of 65 although it may occur earlier. A specific agent has yet to be found however many biological markers of the condition are associated with the symptoms of the condition. Alzheimer’s is identified by misfolded proteins in the brain, amyloid beta protein and tau protein the two most common which form clumps called plaques. Why the plaques lead to alzheimer’s is unknown what is known is within cells of individuals with alzheimer’s exists tau protein and outside the cells are deposits of amyloid protein and both affect neuronal functions.
The consensus among neuro scientists may be amyloid deposits outside the cell somehow induce accumulation of intracellular tau protein which may be then toxic to a cell. This is however strongly questioned by research interested in reducing amyloid protein and also by individuals with high amyloid protein levels who have normal cognitive functioning. The major explanation of alzheimer’s may have strong contradictory evidence. An increased immune response has also been observed and certain virulent agents and pathogens may also generate amyloid plaques. Recently researchers may have found evidence for a fungal contamination in alzheimer’s individuals where fungal DNA and proteins were discovered in brain tissue. This may have been shown to be within cells and outside cells, and was absent from the brains of normal controls. Inflammation and immune response to fungal material may produce compounds known to lead to the cognitive reduction in alzheimers.
A new study by Pisa and colleagues published in an open access journal showed fungal material was present in many different brain regions with those with alzheimer’s and were absent in controls without the condition. The team used immunohistochemistry which is a process which may detect antigens. This process works by using antibodies which attract the antigens or proteins to show a presence. This process led the team to find fungal material in blood vessels which may also explain a common pathology of the vascular system in alzheimer’s. Vascular lesions of the Central nervous system occur in 90% of alzheimer’s cases. The fungal material found had an origin from many different types of fungal species.
The significance of the team’s findings means a potential factor in the aetiology of the condition may have been found. With 100% of all tested individuals with alzheimers also having fungal material in cells and neurovascular system, a wider population study may clarify this. It is also possible a blood test may become available as fungal material has been observed in the blood of individuals with alzheimer’s something only recently discovered. Even more encouraging is a study showing reversal of alzheimer’s symptoms in two individuals on an antifungal treatment. This however may have been a misdiagnosis with the two individuals possibly afflicted with cryptococcal meningitis. This highlights the possibility that symptoms presenting as Alzheimer’s may be caused by other conditions and these conditions need to have rigid and differential definitions. It does however point to the possibility that many cases of mis-diagnosed Alzheimer’s or even alzheimer’s itself may be treated with anti-fungal treatment and further specific studies may prove this.
Overall the study and previous studies have established some kind of role for fungi in alzheimer’s or closely related conditions. Whether this is a source or a consequence of the condition is still to be proven although optimism that an answer may be found in the near future is promising. If fungal material is a cause of alzheimer’s it offers the prospect that a treatment for alzheimer’s may be possible.
What unknown factors contribute to alzheimer’s that are still undiscovered?