A team of researchers led by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Australia scientists has discovered how connections between brain cells are destroyed in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease - work that opens up a new avenue for research on possible treatments for the degenerative brain condition.
The findings represent another angle of attack in the ongoing battle to find a cure for the widespread degenerative condition.
"One of the first signs of Alzheimer's disease is the loss of synapses - the structures that connect neurons in the brain," says study leader, Dr Vladimir Sytnyk, of the UNSW School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences.
Alzheimer's disease is a widespread problem, with an estimated 5.3 million people suffering from it in United States alone.
A huge amount of effort is going into finding effective treatments, and there have been a lot of positive results, with teams developing new drugs that tackle aspects of aging associated with the condition, and even using ultrasound therapy to combat plaque build-ups in the brain.
In order to arrive at an actual cure for the condition, gaining a full understanding of the processes it involves is key.
The leader of this latest study, Dr. Vladimir Sytnyk, from the UNSW School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, explains that loss of synapses - which connect brain neurons - is one of the first changes associated with Alzheimer's disease.
"Synapses are required for all brain functions," he says, "and particularly for learning and forming memories." He adds that synapse loss occurs very early in Alzheimer's disease, long before the nerve cells die, when only mild cognitive impairment is noticeable.