D.J. McPhee D.J. McPhee20 September 2023 Open Science
Neurodegenerative diseases

Neurodegenerative Diseases

Because neurodegenerative diseases are incurable, there is a substantial effort being made to make progress in fighting them.

Simply put, the loss in the function or structure of neurons (which is generally referred to as neurodegeneration) can ultimately lead to cell death. The severity of these diseases has made them a hot research field. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (often shortened to ALS), Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease are amongst the most commonly known. There are other, less-known examples, however, such as prion diseases and Huntington’s disease.

Awareness of neurodegenerative disease

There are some high-profile cases of neurodegenerative disease, such as Stephen Hawking having ALS or Michael J. Fox having Parkinson’s disease. Awareness creates the desire to help, and Fox even established a foundation to do so.

These diseases are considered to be incurable but that does not mean that they are not manageable at times, and that progress isn’t being made. Here, we’ll take a deeper dive into some neurodegenerative diseases and the fascinating research around them.

Dementia and the brain

In an article on the subject, Jack McKenna takes a look at a number of different areas of focus in the study of dementia. As he notes in his piece, the spread of disruptions to the brain can shed some light into the origins of a disease,

“Because the brain is a complex network of neurons connected by blood vessels that provide oxygen and nutrients, any disruption can cause rippling effects. This means that symptoms reflect which part of the brain is affected first and then, as it spreads, they gradually become like other cases.”

First and foremost, a method of early detection is pivotal to improve quality of life and start any treatments as soon as possible. What follows are a few examples of the research discussed in this fascinating piece.

AI and dementia

In the hopes of avoiding invasive tests, some researchers are looking into using AI to help with early detection. Due to the volume of data that AI can analyze, it can possibly be used to spot signs of dementia more effectively than a person. This suggests that these diseases subtly alter the body at early stages.

Music and therapy

Music has been used in various forms of therapy for quite some time. Given how long music has been a part of human history, it seems almost logical to assume that it is something that we gravitate towards naturally. Perhaps that is why it has been shown to be beneficial in many different types of therapy, and dementia is no exception to this. A paper in the journal IJERPH delves into this subject more deeply.

Microglia and the brain

A complicated part of the brain, microglia initially work to prevent neurodegenerative diseases but unfortunately then also contribute to their development.

Briefly explained,

“microglia perform surveillance and maintenance of the brain, ensuring it develops correctly and is free from any matter that could disturb its stability. To do so, microglia trigger neuroinflammation, but over time this can contribute to neurodegenerative disease.”

Microglia release proinflammatory substances and these trigger a neuroinflammatory response. Then, they perform phagocytosis. This means that they can eliminate dead cells and any unwanted material, including the plaque and tangles associated with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

An important observation about microglia

Jack notes in his piece that, as the brain ages, microglia’s proinflammatory response can become detrimental and accelerate the progression of neurodegenerative diseases. Because there is no cure, the burden caused by this disease is far-reaching and affects countless individuals all around the world. Understanding the complicated role of microglia in neurodegenerative diseases is a fascinating area of research. As with many areas of neurodegenerative diseases, more research is urgently needed to help unlock these mysteries about the brain.

Further information about neurodegenerative diseases

We will be continuing to follow up on this interesting and important topic over time.

Please stop by and read up on the latest hot research in the field of neurodegenerative diseases from MDPI journals like IJERPH.