What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects the brain, primarily causing memory loss and cognitive decline. It is the most common form of dementia, accounting for around 60-80% of all cases.
The disease typically develops slowly and worsens over time, leading to difficulties with memory, thinking, and behavior. In the early stages, individuals may experience mild forgetfulness and confusion, which gradually progresses to more severe memory impairment, disorientation, and language difficulties. As the disease advances, individuals may have difficulty recognizing loved ones, performing daily tasks, and maintaining conversations.
According to recent research conducted at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) may experience altered processing of pain signals compared to healthy individuals. This study, published in Nature Communications, raises questions about the potential for improving the quality of life for people with AD through changes in pain management strategies.
While chronic musculoskeletal pain is prevalent among individuals with AD, it often goes untreated due to cognitive deficits associated with the disease, making it challenging to report the pain accurately. The researchers aimed to investigate whether there are changes in the nervous system’s response to pain in individuals with AD.
In a mouse model mimicking AD, pain signals were found to be processed differently compared to healthy mice. The protein Galectin-3, responsible for transmitting pain signals to the spinal cord, exhibited altered functionality. The study also observed an increased activation of microglia, immune cells within the spinal cord, in response to pain signals. Interestingly, mice with AD lacked a protein called TLR4 in their central nervous system’s immune cells, which impaired their ability to perceive pain signals in the typical manner.
These findings suggest that individuals with AD may experience altered pain perception due to the absence of TLR4, potentially leading to underreported and untreated pain. Professor Marzia Malcangio, the senior author of the study, highlights the significance of understanding this area, as untreated pain can contribute to the psychiatric symptoms associated with AD. Further research in this field could pave the way for more effective treatments, ultimately enhancing the quality of life for individuals with AD.
George Sideris-Lampretsas, the first author of the study and a PhD student at King’s IoPPN, emphasizes the study’s potential impact in identifying Galectin-3/TLR4 as a potential therapeutic target for chronic pain. Additionally, raising awareness about the underreported and untreated pain experienced by AD patients is crucial for addressing their needs effectively.