Dementia is caused by physical diseases, most commonly Alzheimer’s disease. One of the key hallmarks of Alzheimer’s is the formation of tau tangles in the brain. These protein tangles first occur in a small brain structure called the locus coeruleus. Nerve cells in this area of the brain also start to die in the early stages of the disease.
The locus coeruleus is the main producer of a chemical called noradrenaline that plays a key role in thinking, memory and behaviour. This chemical also reduces inflammation. Though inflammation is part of the normal immune system response to infection or damage, too much of it in the brain it can do more harm than good and damage healthy nerve cells.
Prof Delphine Boche is using human brain tissue to find out if the early loss of brain cells in the locus coeruleus increases inflammation in the rest of the brain. If the loss of noradrenaline is linked to increased inflammation, this could be an exciting avenue for the development of life-changing new treatments.