Aspirin could protect you from dementia: Wonder painkiller triggers ‘clean-up cells’ to remove toxic proteins from the brain, study finds

  • For years, scientists have tried to work out how to activate cleaning cells to remove waste and slow the disease
  • A team at Rush University Medical Center found the answer may lie in aspirin
  • The painkiller activates a chemical called PPARA, which switches on a protein called TFEB, which triggers a cascade of ‘cleaning’ chemicals called lysosomes

Aspirin could lower the risk of Alzheimer’s and even slow its progress in sufferers, a new study has found.

In experiments on mice, even a low dose of the common over-the-counter pill destroyed the rogue proteins that kill neurons in the brain.  

For years, scientists have been trying to work out how to activate cleaning cells in the brain to remove waste and potentially slow the disease. 

Now, the team at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, have found the answer may lie in the already popular painkiller. 

Aspirin could reduce Alzheimer’s pathology by activating a chemical called PPARA, switching on a protein called TFEB, which triggers a cascade of ‘cleaning’ chemicals called lysosomes

They are hopeful the same results will be found in humans – identifying a new role for one of the most widely used medications in the world.

‘At present, there is no effective treatment for preventing or halting the disease,’ lead author Professor Kalipada Pahan, a neurologist at Rush, said. 

‘The major defining neuro-pathological features are deposition of extra-cellular senile plaques composed of toxic amyloid beta aggregates and formation of intra-cellular neuro-fibrillary tangles originated from the protein tau.’

Millions of people take a low dose of the ‘wonder pill’ to reduce their risk of developing dementia – as well as cancer and cardiovascular disease.

It reduces inflammation – the bodily process that triggers most major life-threatening illnesses.

The new study found evidence that it could be used to clears amyloid beta from the hippocampus – gray matter that controls memory. 

The exact causes of Alzheimer’s, and what makes the disease progress, are unknown. 

But it’s widely agreed that toxic build-up of amyloid beta – especially within the hippocampus – is a leading mechanism.

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Dr Pahan’s study is a continuation of previous research that found a link between aspirin and reduced risk and prevalence of Alzheimer’s. 

This time, however, Dr Pahan has shown the proactive qualities aspirin inspires. 

It boosts a chemical that helps clean cells – including neurons – of debris such as the amyloid beta linked to dementia.  

The chemical in question is called PPARA (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha). This switches on another protein known as TFEB (Transcription factor EB) that fuels the production of lysosomes. The chemical cascade increases their neuronal number.  

While we still don’t have all the answers – far from it – Dr Pahan insists this development is key to reaching some concrete methods for treating and preventing Alzheimer’s, which affects 850,000 people in the UK and 5.7 million in the US. 

‘Developing drugs for the reduction of amyloid beta containing senile plaque, one of the pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, is an important area of research,’ Dr Pahan said.  

‘Pharmacological compounds targeting TFEB as a therapeutic strategy in Alzheimer’s disease are still understudied.

‘Therefore, stimulation of lysosomal biogenesis and reduction of amyloid plaque pathology by low-dose aspirin holds promising therapeutic potential for treatment.’ 

Dr Sara Imarisio, head of research of Alzheimer’s Research UK which is partnering with the University of Oxford on a broader study on the same subject said, said: ‘Aspirin is a commonly taken medicine for a number of health conditions, but there has been little research to examine potential benefits for Alzheimer’s disease.

‘This early-stage research suggests aspirin may help improve how the brain removes amyloid, a protein known to build up in Alzheimer’s. 

‘The study reveals important insights into the mechanisms through which aspirin may impact brain health, however this is a small study in mice so it’s too early to draw conclusions about whether aspirin could be used to treat Alzheimer’s in people.’ 

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