Research shows that white blood cells in the human brain are regulated by a protein called CD33 (image)--a finding with important implications in the fight against Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study by University of Alberta chemists. "Immune cells in the brain, called microglia, play a critical role in Alzheimer's disease," explained Matthew Macauley, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry and co-author on the paper. "They can be harmful or protective. Swaying microglia from a harmful to protective state could be the key to treating the disease." Scientists have identified the CD33 protein as a factor that may decrease a person's likelihood of Alzheimer's disease. Less than 10 percent of the population have a version of CD33 that makes them less likely to get Alzheimer's disease. "The fact that CD33 is found on microglia suggests that immune cells can protect the brain from Alzheimer's disease under the right circumstances," said Abhishek Bhattacherjee, PhD, first author and postdoctoral fellow in the Macauley lab. Now, Dr. Macauley's research shows that the most common type of CD33 protein plays a crucial role in modulating the function of microglia."These findings set the stage for future testing of a causal relationship between CD33 and Alzheimer's Disease, as well as testing therapeutic strategies to sway microglia from harmful to protecting against the disease--by targeting CD33," said Dr. Macauley.
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