Memory Mondays: The Link Between Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s Disease

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Is there a link between cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease? A new study out of the United Kingdom concludes that cholesterol may in fact influence the development of Alzheimer’s.

Cholesterol, a substance that can build up on artery walls, potentially causes health problems ranging from heart disease to stroke. Now, University of Cambridge researchers suggest low-density lipoprotein (LDL), often considered “bad cholesterol,” may promote amyloid-beta clusters in the brain. This presents a new link between cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease.

The amyloid-beta protein proves a key contributing factor to Alzheimer’s disease. When clusters form, they become plaques that are toxic to the brain and kill off brain cells, according to Medical News Today.

The Cambridge researchers, along with scientists from Lund University in Sweden, therefore investigated how amyloid-beta groups up in Alzheimer’s disease. They found that amyloid-beta sticks well to lipid cell membranes that contain cholesterol. When this occurs around other “stuck” amyloid-beta molecules, they’re more likely to cross paths. At this point, clusters start to form.

What the Link Between Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s Disease Means

Yet the researchers do not believe cholesterol itself is the issue, nor is the amount of cholesterol consumed in a diet.

“The question for us now is not how to eliminate cholesterol from the brain, but about how to control cholesterol’s role in Alzheimer’s disease through the regulation of its interaction with amyloid-beta,” study co-author Professor Michele Vendruscolo of the Centre for Misfolding Diseases at the University of Cambridge. “We’re not saying that cholesterol is the only trigger for the aggregation process, but it’s certainly one of them.”

Cholesterol move around the body via protein carriers, according to Vendruscolo. As people get older, these protein carriers become less effective and may interrupt the way cholesterol gets around. As such, scientists might target this process to control the balance of cholesterol and amyloid-beta in the brain.

“This work has helped us narrow down a specific question in the field of Alzheimer’s research,” Vendruscolo said. “We now need to understand in more detail how the balance of cholesterol is maintained in the brain in order to find new ways to inactivate a trigger of amyloid-beta aggregation.”