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Researcher explores new cause of Alzheimer’s

August 14, 2017
by Nicole Stempak, Senior Editor
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A study of the naked mole rat could lead to new dementia treatments.

Christine Crish, a researcher at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, studied how the leader mole rat—similar to a queen bee—grew bigger every time she was pregnant. Her bones expanded and lumbar spine elongated, something unusual for an adult animal.

Crish’s research has shifted, and she’s now focusing on how bones grow and shrink in adult humans, which has led to an interesting discovery.

“We think we’re noticing that many of our early Alzheimer’s patients have osteoporosis, or reduced bone density,” Crish says to WKSU.

Now she’s trying to understand how bone loss is connected to memory loss. She's focusing on a brain region not normally associated with neurocognitive disorders: the brainstem. Crish thinks the disease could affect the brainstem well before it affects the forebrain, the brain region responsible for learning and memory. The brainstem could even be a conduit for the spread of Alzheimer’s throughout the brain.

The brainstem is also where most of the brain’s supply of serotonin is made. Serotonin aids in many bodily functions, including neurological signals to help keep bones strong. She is researching whether bone density loss could be an early warning sign of the disease and if boosting the amount of serotonin in the brain could slow disease progression. 

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