Your brain is full of connections and pathways that run from one section to the next, buzzing with messages for one another. Like a train full of cargo, these connections supply areas across the brain with information – what you are seeing, feeling, hearing, remembering. If these pathways break down, information can no longer be passed freely, and normal brain function is impaired.
Neurodegeneration, the loss of neurons in the brain, contributes to the destruction of neural connections. The negative consequences of neurodegeneration are present in a range of disorders; from motor problems in Parkinson’s disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis to cognitive complaints in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other forms of dementia. While these diseases represent only a handful of neurological conditions, the 10th Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) Forum examined the full spectrum of neurodegenerative diseases and the mechanisms that drive them throughout the conference program in Copenhagen.
With neurodegenerative disease in the spotlight at FENS 2016, PLOS launched a special collection of notable research on this topic. In this collection, researchers explore topics such as early markers for Alzheimer’s disease (AD), if computerized brain games can stave off the effects of age on cognition, decline in speech abilities in Amyotophic Lateral Sclerosis, the utility of drug rescue and repurposing on neurodegenerative disease and many other pertinent topics.
One new line of inquiry in neurodegenerative disease is the impact of diet and metabolic health on risk factors for AD. A PLOS ONE study featured in the Neurodegenerative Disease Collection investigates how diet effects levels of the e4 allele of apolipoprotein E gene (ApoE4), a genetic risk factor for AD. Study authors Courtney Lane-Donovan and Joachim Herz found a high-fat diet reduced ApoE levels in the hippocampus of ApoE3 mice, an area associated with memory that is damaged throughout the course of AD. A ketogenic diet increased plasma ApoE in ApoE4 mice; this effect was not shown in the other groups. The researchers conclude that diet is an important element in the progression of AD, and that genotype-based dietary interventions could be beneficial in slowing the disease.
Social Media Highlights from PLOS Science Wednesday
Lane-Donovan and Herz answered reader questions about their findings on the July 6 PLOS Science Wednesday Ask Me Anything (AMA) session. A full transcript of the Q&A is available on r/science, but we’ve included some social media highlights from the AMA below.
The question that received the most upvotes (aka was favored by the reddit users) asks: How does this affect people who primarily survive on a ketogenic diet?
Many people had questions about how a ketogenic diet impacts Alzheimer’s risk. The PLOS ONE authors acknowledge that, while more long-term trajectory studies are necessary to fully understand how a ketogenic diet impacts Alzheimer’s risk, current findings indicate the diet may be protective against AD.
The full response to the preceding question is available here.
The question from reddit user SAGNUTZ begins with a joke, but ends on a serious note: In your opinion do you think Alzheimer’s research (in general) gets the staff and funding it deserves? Are your resources put to good use and is there anything you would change about the process to make it more effective?
Neurodegenerative Disease Research and Resources from PLOS
- PLOS Neuroscience Collection: An expansive and multi-journal resource
- PLOS Neurodegenerative Disease Collection
- PLOS Neuro Community meets face-to-face at #FENS2016 in Copenhagen!
- High-Fat Diet Changes Hippocampal Apolipoprotein E (ApoE) in a Genotype- and Carbohydrate-Dependent Manner in Mice via PLOS ONE
- Ketones to combat Alzheimer’s disease
- PLOS Science Wednesday AMA feat. Courtney Lane-Donovan and Joachim Herz (July 6 2016)