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Iron deficiency linked to Alzheimer’s

A new study has found evidence that an Iron deficiency in the brain could be an important factor in developing Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers from the University of Adelaide were studying the mutations in a small number of genes associated with an inherited form of Alzheimer's.

The dominant theory of the cause of Alzheimer's argues that these mutations change the way a small protein fragment, Amyloid beta, is produced. Scientists believe that this protein can build up and become toxic, thus altering brain function.

The Adelaide team found that one such gene, PSEN1, is important for supplying iron to brain cells.

And when PSEN1 is mutated it cannot sufficiently provide brain cells with active Iron.

Dr Michael Lardelli, from the University of Adelaide’s Alzheimer’s Disease Genetics Laboratory in the School of Biological Sciences, said that brain cells are much like people when it comes to their nutrition.

"Just as people have acid in their stomachs to help break down food, cells have microscopic acid-filled stomachs called ‘lysosomes’.

“If the lysosome is not acidic enough, the cell will have difficulty absorbing nutrients from outside. The cell will also have difficulty recycling materials it no longer needs in order to reuse them for other tasks. Research by others has shown that when the PSEN1 gene is mutated, cells’ lysosomes cannot become properly acidic."

Iron is extremely important for cell survival, Lardelli said, and without it the cell’s mitochondria malfunction and cause damage to the brain.

The researchers developed a new method for detecting evidence that the balance of active iron in the brain is disrupted.

However, these findings don't mean we should all go out and stock up on the iron supplements.

“It has long been known that having sufficient iron in your diet is very important for mental function and overall health. But iron is both a blessing and a curse," Lardelli said.

"Having too much iron can damage your body. So, people should not start taking iron supplements unless their doctor recommends they do so.

"In the meantime, we need more research to find a way to overcome the defective acidification problem of the lysosomes. That would likely solve the brain’s iron problem and other cell nutrition problems that may be contributing to Alzheimer’s disease.”

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