Immune system changes linked with better memory and thinking

21 January 2021

Scientists from Stanford Medicine published research today (Wednesday 20 January) in the scientific journal Nature. They found boosting a chemical messenger helped improve memory and thinking in mice.

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“This new, well-conducted study adds to existing research implicating the immune system in the development of age-related cognitive decline. These findings highlight a molecular pathway that could potentially be targeted to restore healthy immune system activity in both the body and the brain.

“This study looked at mice with immune system changes similar to those that we see during human ageing, which may be relevant to Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. The authors showed that targeting a molecule that’s expressed on a certain cell type in mice could reduce inflammation in the brain and may improve the function of the hippocampus, an area of the brain important for memory.  Disrupted immune system activity in the brain is thought to be an important aspect of the complex biology of Alzheimer’s disease, but there are many other processes at play as well.

“While intriguing, this is early-stage research carried out in mice and while the results deserve further follow up, there are many steps to go before we will know if this is likely to be a successful strategy for treatment of dementia. To understand more about how restoring the activity of immune cells in the brain affects the brain health and ultimately memory and thinking skills in humans, we need to see experiments in environments that closely mirror the human brain.

“The brain is a complex network of cells connecting together to form your thoughts, memories and personality. Finding ways to maintain brain health as we age and protect it from diseases like Alzheimer’s is perhaps our greatest long-term medical challenge and it is essential that we fund research to follow up important work like this.”