Alzheimer’s Disease could be reversed by rheumatoid arthritis protein

SRxA’s Word on Health is encouraged to learn that scientists have discovered that a chemical normally produced by the body to fight arthritis, could also reverse the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Although it’s already known that people with rheumatoid arthritis, have a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, until recently, most experts assumed this was due to the anti-inflammatory drugs given to treat the disease.

Now, researchers at the University of South Florida have found that a protein, triggered by rheumatoid arthritis, can undo the ‘tangles‘ in the brain that are thought to cause Alzheimer’s.

While people with rheumatoid arthritis are subjected to swollen joints and decreased mobility, the protein produced by the disease stimulates scavenger cells in the body.

The new study, published online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, found that the protein, GM-CSF, could both reverse the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s and lower the risk of getting the illness.  In some cases the memory impairment was completely undone after treatment.

The placebo-controlled tests in mice, showed that those treated with GM-CSF had >50% decrease in beta amyloid, the hallmark substance of Alzheimer’s disease. They also showed more microglia – specialized immune cells which remove toxic substances, in the treated animals. In contrast Alzheimer’s mice injected with the placebo salt solution continued to do badly in the tests.

We were pretty amazed that the treatment completely reversed cognitive impairment in 20 days,” said Dr Tim Boyd, the scientist who led the study.

What makes these results especially noteworthy is that the protein is not experimental.  A synthetic form of this naturally occurring protein is already commercially available under the brand name Leukine (sargramostim).  Leukine is a recombinant human granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (rhu GM-CSF) manufactured by Genzyme.  While not indicated for use in Alzheimer’s, it has been approved by the FDA to reduce the incidence of severe and life-threatening infections in some chemotherapy patients with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). Leukine is also used in multiple stem cell transplantation settings.

Our study, along with the drugs track record for safety, suggests Leukine should be tested in humans as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease” commented Prof Huntingdon Potter, a molecular medicine expert involved in the study.

While we recognize that rarely a day goes by without news of some new “breakthrough” for the estimated 35 million people worldwide who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, your Word on Health team hopes that this latest research brings the promise of a cure or treatment even closer.

Did Lou Gehrig have Lou Gehrig’s Disease?

Ridiculous question?  Or perhaps not, according to new data published this week in the Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology.

The study, involving 36 subjects, suggests that some patients may be misdiagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) a form of motor neuron disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Instead they may have a newly characterized disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).  CTE, a central nervous system disease, is thought to occur as a result of repeated concussion-like trauma.


The researchers used sophisticated neuropathology techniques to study the proteins – tau and TDP-43, in brains obtained at autopsy from twelve former athletes. Eleven of the athletes had been professional football players or boxers; one was a hockey player.

All of the athletes had CTE, with dementia developing many years after a history of repeated concussions. Three of the athletes were also affected by fatal motor neuron disease, with profound and progressive muscle weakness and deterioration for several years before death. The brains from patients with CTE and motor neuron disease showed specific patterns of tau and TDP-43 deposits, distinct from those of sporadic ALS.

Of course, most people who develop ALS are not pro athletes. “The study has broad implications, not only for understanding the potential risks to professional and non-professional athletes in many types of collision sports, but also for people who serve in military combat,” said Dr. Raymond A. Sobel, Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology. “Anyone who experiences repetitive, seemingly mild, head injury or concussion might be at risk for developing a brain disease later in life.”

However, some critical research questions remain. It’s still unknown exactly how brain injury leads to protein deposits, or whether head trauma produces these changes alone or in association with certain genetic factors.

What is known and clearly documented is that Lou Gehrig suffered significant concussions playing baseball and was notorious for playing through such injuries. Could he have been an early victim of CTE?

Sadly, Word on Health can’t answer this.  According to biographers his remains were cremated and thus cannot be studied.