An emerging target in Alzheimer’s research

Advanced techniques in cell analysis are contributing to a better understanding of how brain immune cells, also known as microglia, contribute to healthy function and dysregulation in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2021, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of new brain and health news.

Recent research suggests that microglia play a key role in the development and progression of AD and other neurodegenerative diseases. A better understanding of microglia dysfunction can help to elucidate disease signs and mechanisms, elucidate their interaction with genetic risk factors, and activate microglia as a potential therapeutic target.

Today’s new findings show:

  • Cultured human microglia can model AD-associated microglial states, allowing identification of genetic regulators and potential new therapeutic approaches (Beth A. Stevens, Boston Children’s Hospital/Broad Institute).
  • Dysfunctional microglia distinguish the brains of people with AD from the brains of healthy, older people (Ryan Shahidehpour, University of Kentucky).
  • Distinct subpopulations of microglia are found near pathogenic features such as amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain tissue of individuals with AD, correlating with AD disease progression and clinical prognosis (Bahareh Ajami, Oregon Health and Science University).

The technical advances presented today provide important insights into the role that immune cells play in the biology of Alzheimer’s disease. These results add to the growing evidence that immune pathways contribute to the progression of many neurodegenerative diseases and offer new avenues for potential treatments.

Li Gan, director of the Helen and Robert Appel Alzheimer’s Disease Research Institute at Weill Cornell Medical College, which studies the molecular mechanisms of AD and other dementias.

This research was supported by national funding agencies including the National Institutes of Health and private funding organizations. Learn more about microglia and the brain at

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