Scientists from University of Central Florida have identified a mechanism responsible for early brain function deterioration in Alzheimer's patients.
It is well known that amyloid-beta gums up brain cells when it becomes too concentrated, because it forms damaging deposits on the cells known as plaques.
These prevent normal electrical signal generation in the cells, eventually killing them. That drives the memory loss and other problems that plague Alzheimer's sufferers.
In the new study, the researchers explored the impacts of very low amyloid-beta concentrations on healthy cells in an effort to mimic the earlier stages of Alzheimer's.
They found that over time, though there are no outward signs of damage, exposure to moderate amyloid-beta concentrations somehow prevents electrical signals from travelling normally through the cells.
Because the effect is seen in otherwise healthy cells, lead researcher by James Hickman, head of the UCF NanoScience Technology Center's Hybrid Systems Laboratory, believes the team may have uncovered a critical process in the progression of Alzheimer's that could occur before a person shows any known signs of brain impairment.
"What we're claiming is that before you have any behavioural clues, these electrical transmission problems may be occurring," he said.
The researchers hope that the new study has opened a new exploratory path in the quest for an Alzheimer's cure.