Tangles - the Accomplice - Dangers Inside the Cell
Alzheimer’s is not thought to be caused by amyloid alone. Experts say that the amyloid buildup has an accomplice in another compound that interferes with nerve function—neurofibrillary tangles. The long axons that extend from a nerve cell’s body to connect with other nerve cells maintain their shape thanks to internal structures known as microtubules. As Alzheimer's progresses, however, the tight structure of these microtubules starts to fall apart. A normal component of nerve cells, a protein called tau, undergoes pathologic changes which are associated with neurofibrillary tangle formation. These neurofibrillary tangles accumulate in the nerve cell’s body and, combined with growing deposits of amyloid plaques, start to disrupt the function of nerve cells. These cells eventually die, leading to loss of essential brain functions.
Since neurofibrillary tangles are an integral part of Alzheimer’s disease, some researchers are focusing their attention on finding ways to stabilize tau as a way to treat Alzheimer’s. Other strategies are focused on maintaining the chemical reactions that hold the structure of microtubules.
Challenge: Which comes first, the amyloid buildup or the tau tangles?
Solution: Experts continue to debate how amyloid and tau interact to cause Alzheimer’s. Scientists work on the assumption that both are necessary to cause the disease.