Does Iron Contribute to Alzheimer's?

Updated: Jan 11, 2019

Does Iron Contribute to Alzheimer's?

Oxygen. It’s a crucial part of our daily lives- we wouldn’t be here without it. It enables us to produce energy so we can carry out our daily functions. Hemoglobin is an essential protein that helps us transport oxygen throughout our body. In fact, hemoglobin alone makes up two-thirds of the body’s iron. However, how is iron connected to dementia? Researchers at the University of Warwick, Keele University, University of Florida, and the University of Texas at San Antonio have conducted a study that shows brain metals such as iron may drive the progression of Alzheimer’s.

Researchers conducted this study by gathering amyloid plaque cores ( sticky build up of a toxic protein called beta amyloid that causes neurons to die) from two Alzheimer’s brain donors. According to the University of Warwick,  they found that Alzheimer’s brains had multiple “ chemically-reduced iron species including a increase of a magnetic iron oxide called magnetite- which is not commonly found in the human brain. Thanks to advanced measurement capabilities at synchrotron X-ray facilities in the UK and USA, the team has now shown detailed evidence that theses processes took place in the brains of individuals who had Alzheimer’s.”  Researchers were able to determine the chemical properties of the minerals within these brains, and found that iron isn’t the only metal which was present in the amyloid plaques. Forms of calcium minerals were observed by the researchers as well. If researchers can identify the importance that these metals have to the progression of Alzheimer’s, therapies can be developed in the future to fight this disorder at its very beginnings.

Iron is a crucial metal in the brain. Dr. Joanna Collingwood, Associate Professor at the University of Warwick’s School of Engineering and expert in trace metals analysis, high resolution imaging, and neurodegenerative disorders explained, “ Iron is an essential element in the brain, so it is critical to understand how its management is affected in Alzheimer’s disease. We are excited to have these new insights into how amyloid plaque formation influences iron chemistry in the human brain, as our findings coincide with efforts by others to treat Alzheimer’s with iron-modifying drugs ”. The research team proposed that the “interactions between iron and the amyloid protein that produce the chemically reduced iron species, including magnetite, may account for toxicity that contributes to the development and progression of Alzheimer’s”.

This study conducted at the University of Warwick was an international effort, universities form the UK and the U.S. played a key role in the findings. The conclusions from this study are that metals in the brain might drive the progression of Alzheimer’s, and brains which have Alzheimer’s contain “chemically reduced iron species, with mineral forms including a magnetic iron oxide which researchers hypothesize are produced during formation of amyloid protein plaques”. If we can find out how to manage and monitor  these metals in human brains, we are one step closer to finding effective therapies and possible cures for Alzheimer’s.