fatty acid metabolism

In a recent study published in PLOS Medicine, a group of researchers studied metabolic profiles of the brain in relation to Alzheimer’s disease. The group found that, along with tau and amyloid proteins, unsaturated fatty acid levels in the brain, as a result of metabolic deviations and irregularities are associated with the severity and expression of Alzheimer’s disease.


Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease. It damages the cells throughout the brain without any pattern, making it highly unpredictable and difficult to study and treat.  Alzheimer’s disease is a leading cause of dementia. Current research points to two molecules—notably large molecules—called tau and amyloid proteins, being the main cause of the memory problems associated with dementia. Other than this, molecular changes inside the brain caused by Alzheimer’s disease are a great unknown. However, we do know that Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids have some negative and protective effects in Alzheimer’s disease.

To better our collective knowledge of the molecular side of Alzheimer’s disease, a multi-university group of scientists studied the metabolic effects of Alzheimer’s disease. The study was published in the academic journal PLOS Medicine. The scientists involved hail from King’s College London, the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University and Duke University. Metabolic profiles of brain tissue were collected from individuals with healthy brains (n=14), people with Alzheimer’s disease (n=14) and people who had the Alzheimer’s pathology (accumulation of tau and amyloid) at death but did not experience cognitive impairment during life (n=15). The researchers were not focused on tau and amyloid proteins but on hundreds of different unsaturated fatty acids (smaller molecules than tau and amyloid proteins) to broaden our knowledge of the metabolic effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study found that, in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, the levels of six unsaturated fatty acids were significantly altered all over the brain. Altogether, this study links fats to Alzheimer’s disease and suggests that the metabolism of unsaturated fatty acids is dysregulated in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Identifying novel molecules that play a role in Alzheimer’s disease is an important step in the search for better diagnoses and treatment.


Written By: Brian Jones

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