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Clearing the Waste

Defects in microglia – a kind of non-neuron brain cell – lead to accumulation of Alzheimer's-like brain plaques

22 July 2020

Clearing the Waste

While neurons are the most commonly talked about brain cells, the other half of the brain is made up of cells that support and protect neurons, called glia. For example, microglia find and clear away infections and damaged cells. Toxic material can build up when microglia stop functioning properly, which could explain the distinctive protein clumps called amyloid-β plaques found in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Recently, neuroscientists set out to understand why these crucial support cells are impaired in AD by studying mice genetically modified to develop the disease’s hallmark symptoms. They found functional defects as well as changes to certain proteins in mouse microglia (shown here in red and green) soon after plaques (purple) started accumulating in the brain. In future, changes to microglia function and structure as the disease starts spreading through the brain could be a sign to look for in people at risk for AD.

Written by Gaëlle Coullon

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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