Dementia leads to a progressive and irreversible loss of nerve cells and brain functioning.
Patients will experience loss of memory and cognitive impairments, and they may lose the ability to learn. Currently, there is no cure.
In a recent study, an international research team confirms the discovery of a major cause of dementia.
The finding has important implications for dementia diagnosis and treatment.
The researchers say that the build-up of urea in the brain to toxic levels can cause brain damage – and eventually dementia.
The previous work from the team found metabolic linkages between Huntington’s, other neurodegenerative diseases and type 2 diabetes.
And this study shows that Huntington’s Disease – one of seven major types of age-related dementia – is directly linked to brain urea levels and metabolic processes.
Their 2016 study revealing that urea is similarly linked to Alzheimer’s, shows, according to Professor Cooper, that the discovery could be relevant to all types of age-related dementias.
The Huntington’s study also showed that the high urea levels occurred before dementia sets in, which could help doctors to one day diagnose and even treat dementia, well in advance of its onset.
Urea and ammonia in the brain are metabolic breakdown products of protein.
Urea is more commonly known as a compound which is excreted from the body in urine.
Urea and ammonia can build up in the body when the kidneys are unable to eliminate them. This can cause serious symptoms.
The team used human brains, donated by families for this research, as well as transgenic sheep in Australia.
The researchers used cutting-edge gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to measure brain urea levels. For levels to be toxic urea must rise 4-fold or higher than in the normal brain.
They believe that this study on Huntington’s Disease is the final piece of the jigsaw, leading them to conclude that high brain urea plays a pivotal role in dementia.
However, more research is needed to discover the source of the elevated urea in Huntington’s Disease, particularly concerning the potential involvement of ammonia and a systemic metabolic defect.
Currently, doctors already use medicines to treat high levels of ammonia in other parts of the body Lactulose – a commonly used laxative, for example, traps ammonia in the gut.
So it is possible that one day, a commonly used drug may be able to stop dementia from progressing or even reverse the disease.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Source: University of Manchester.
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