Toxic ‘zombie’ cells seen for first time in Alzheimer’s

Grandma

A type of cellular stress known to be involved in cancer and aging has now been implicated, for the first time, in Alzheimer’s disease. UT Health San Antonio faculty researchers reported the discovery Aug. 20 in the journal Aging Cell.

Miranda Orr, Ph.D., UT Health San Antonio

The team found that the stress, called cellular senescence, is associated with harmful tau protein tangles that are a hallmark of 20 human brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s and traumatic brain injury. The researchers identified senescent cells in postmortem brain tissue from Alzheimer’s patients and then found them in postmortem tissue from another brain disease, progressive supranuclear palsy.

Cellular senescence allows the stressed cell to survive, but the cell may become like a zombie, functioning abnormally and secreting substances that kill cells around it. “When cells enter this stage, they change their genetic programming and become pro-inflammatory and toxic,” said study senior author Miranda E. Orr, Ph.D., VA research health scientist at the South Texas Veterans Health Care System, faculty member of the Sam and Ann Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies, and instructor of pharmacology at UT Health San Antonio. “Their existence means the death of surrounding tissue.”

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