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The Brain Inflamed

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The Brain Inflamed

The brain’s immune system could be provoking Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Can scientists get it back in check?


5 min read
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New work shows that inflammation, long assumed to be an effect of Alzheimer’s, may instead be its cause.

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  • Analytical
  • Innovative
  • Scientific


For the last 100 years or so, conventional wisdom held that the amyloid plaques and tau tangles seen in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s were byproducts of the horrible, traumatic neurodegeneration that characterizes the disease. But new evidence is accumulating that they in fact cause the symptoms, and that they arise because of dysregulation of the brain’s immune system. If this devastating disorder impacts your friends and family, you might find that this reversal of perspective offers a glimmer of hope.


The amyloid plaques and tau tangles that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease may be a cause of the condition.

Alois Alzheimer, the eponymous psychiatrist who first described dementia in the early 20th century, noticed the plaques and tangles right away. He also noticed the microglia – scavenger cells that function to patrol and protect the brain – interspersed among the neurons in the deteriorating brains. Since cognitive decline and memory loss are the distinguishing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, most research focused on the neurons and any defects within them. But now there is a fair amount of support for the once-radical idea that the immune system, specifically its role in inflammation, could play a formative part in the development of the...

About the Author

Alison Abbott has a PhD in Pharmacology and is the Senior European Correspondent for Nature.

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