Scientists at the Mental Health Research Institute have published research showing that abnormal iron accumulation in the brain contributes to the onset of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. This accumulation has the potential to be treated with medication. These new findings appear in the leading international medical research journal Nature Medicine.
This research offers hope for many millions of people world-wide affected by dementia and Parkinson’s. Alzheimer’s (most common form of dementia) and Parkinson’s diseases are major health problems, especially for people over the age of 60; they are incurable, and increasingly more common. Dementia is already the greatest cause of disability in older Australians (over 65).
This research was lead by Mental Health Research Institute scientists Peng Lei and Professor Ashley Bush in collaboration with scientists from The University of Melbourne. Their report describes an essential biochemical role for a brain protein, tau, in the removal of excess iron from nerve cells in the brain.
Scientists first identified tau in the 1980’s as the main component of microscopic tangles within brain nerve cells in brain regions affected in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. How these tangles might be harmful to the nerve cells has been uncertain, as has the normal function of tau. What is known is that iron accumulates in the damaged brain regions in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and while excess iron has the potential to cause nerve damage, its harmfulness has been debated. The new findings link tau abnormalities in these diseases with the accumulation of iron, and show that treatment with a drug that removes excess iron can rescue brain damage. The researchers showed that, as is the case for Alzheimer’s