Researchers’ recent discovery shows how and why neurodegenerative disorders (such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia) have become more common. Their findings also hint at potential causative factors behind developing such illnesses later in life.
As with any part of the body, there are immune cells residing in the central nervous system (CNS) termed “microglia”. Scientists have long known that immune cells have the capacity to “remember” past infections, but they had thought that to be solely a protective factor. This new research suggests otherwise.
When immune cells encounter antigens, an inflammatory cascade is initiated. Once the inflammation subsides, the immune cells (in this case microglia) retain memory of the antigen as to better recognize and respond to future exposures to the same antigen. However, this memory has been found to work against the host at times by making the microglia tolerant to future encounters. What this means is that in subsequent cases of inflammation, the microglia don’t react as strongly.
In cases of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders, there’s increased inflammation in CNS that eludes the microglia, persists, and causes deterioration in brain function and cognition.
This new research has led scientists to believe that “inflammatory diseases … could trigger epigenetic reprogramming inside the brain”. Now that there’s a better understanding of the pathophysiology of neuroinflammation, perhaps a cure can be deduced in the years to come.
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