New Research Sheds Light on the Role of Brain Cells in Alzheimer’s Disease Progression

New Research Sheds Light on the Role of Brain Cells in Alzheimer's Disease Progression

Scientists use advanced sequencing technique to identify how specific brain cells contribute to different stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a complex neurodegenerative disorder that poses significant challenges for researchers and clinicians. Understanding the underlying mechanisms and cellular processes involved in the progression of the disease is crucial for developing effective treatments. In a groundbreaking study, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital have employed advanced sequencing techniques to uncover the roles of specific brain cells in different stages of AD. By analyzing genetic risks in microglia and astrocytes, they have provided valuable insights into the disease’s progression and potential targets for therapy.

Cell-Type Specific Genetic Risks

The study focused on two major types of brain cells: microglia and astrocytes. These cells are known to express genes linked to the risk of developing AD dementia. However, the exact contribution of these genetic risk factors to different stages of AD progression has remained unclear. Through their research, the scientists aimed to identify how and when these genetic risks impact distinct disease processes.

Advanced Sequencing Technique

To achieve their goals, the researchers utilized a technique called single nucleus RNA sequencing. This cutting-edge method allowed them to analyze cell-specific AD polygenic risk scores, providing a deeper understanding of the mechanisms underlying the disease. By examining two large clinical research study datasets, the team was able to calculate these risk scores and gain insights into the roles of microglia and astrocytes in AD progression.

Implications for Targeted Treatments

The findings of this study have significant implications for the development of targeted therapies for AD. By identifying the genetic risks associated with specific cell types in the brain, researchers can now explore new avenues for treatment. The research suggests that astrocytes primarily contribute to early stages of AD, such as the buildup of amyloid-β plaques. On the other hand, microglia play a role in later stages, including the accumulation of plaques and tau tangles, as well as cognitive decline. This knowledge opens up possibilities for developing treatments that specifically target these genetic risks associated with different cell types.

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Human Evidence for Disease Processes

The results of this study provide human evidence for how genetic risk in specific brain cells affects the processes involved in AD. Importantly, these effects can occur even before the onset of clinical symptoms. By leveraging autopsy data spanning all stages of disease severity, as well as neuroimaging data from asymptomatic, preclinical stages of AD, the researchers were able to characterize the contributions of cell-specific risk genes. This understanding of the disease’s progression at the cellular level can inform future studies and help develop more effective treatments.

Extending the Technique

The success of this research opens up possibilities for applying the technique to other aspects of AD and potentially other diseases. By expanding the study to include other cell types and disease processes, researchers can gain a more comprehensive understanding of the underlying mechanisms. This knowledge can pave the way for the development of targeted treatments for a range of neurodegenerative disorders, offering hope to millions of people worldwide.


The groundbreaking research conducted by scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital has shed light on the role of specific brain cells in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. By employing advanced sequencing techniques, the study identified how genetic risks in microglia and astrocytes contribute to different stages of the disease. These findings provide valuable insights into the underlying mechanisms of AD and offer potential targets for the development of targeted therapies. With further research and exploration, this knowledge has the potential to transform the landscape of Alzheimer’s treatment and improve the lives of millions affected by this devastating disease.

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