Brain Cleansing System Key to Future Alzheimer’s Drugs?

  • Could the key to conquering Alzheimer’s come through drugs that help the brain more efficiently cleanse itself? Researchers have recently discovered a new waste disposal system that they’ve named the glymphatic system. This system removes waste from the brain. Before now, waste removal in the rest of the body was well understood, but the brain remained a mystery. It’s believed that this self-cleaning mechanism may be a new route to explore in the quest to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s. The theory is that if the system isn’t working efficiently, cognitive problems may develop.


    This research is being conducted by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC).  The URMC scientists theorize that Alzheimer’s and some other neurological conditions may result from the glymphatic system not doing its job properly.

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    The removal of waste from the body is an essential biological function with the lymphatic system, which is a circulatory network of organs and vessels. However, the lymphatic system doesn’t extend to the brain. Up until now, scientists haven’t fully understood how the brain gets rid of waste. One of the reasons why the glymphatic system in the brain has escaped detection is that it cannot be detected in samples of brain tissue. New imaging technology called two-photon microscopy now allows scientists to see deep inside the living brain.  Using this technology on mice, whose brains are remarkably similar to humans, Nedergaard and her colleagues were able to observe and document what amounts to an extensive system responsible for flushing waste from the brain.


    Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc., co-director of the URMC  Center for Translational Neuromedicine and author of the article “Understanding and ultimately discovering how to modulate the brain’s system for removing toxic waste,” explains that essentially all neurodegenerative diseases are associated with the accumulation of cellular waste products.


    Nedergaard says that “the idea that ‘dirty brain’ diseases like Alzheimer may result from a slowing down of the glymphatic system as we age is a completely new way to think about neurological disorders. It also presents us with a new set of targets to potentially increase the efficiency of glymphatic clearance and, ultimately, change the course of these conditions.”


    The bulk of the research on Alzheimer’s medications has been targeted toward ridding the brain of amyloid proteins thought to be responsible for the plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Most drug research has been targeting these plaques and tangles, with disappointing results. If Nedergaard’s theory is correct, her discovery has the potential to change the direction of Alzheimer’s research and speed the development of drugs that can prevent and/or cure not only Alzheimer’s, but other neurological diseases.


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    Dementia Weekly (2013, July 7) Will New Drugs Wash Away Alzheimer's via the Glymphatic System? Retrieved from

Published On: July 09, 2013