Possibly, in a similar way as prion diseases like mad cow disease, according to a new study in mice.
The new findings suggest that "some of the sporadic Alzheimer's cases may arise from an infectious process, which occurs with other neurological diseases such as mad cow and its human form, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease," said study researcher Claudio Soto, Ph.D., a neurology professor at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston, said in a statement. However, Sotos' study was just done in mice, and much more research is needed before the results can carry over into humans.
The study was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
Researchers took brain tissue from a human with Alzheimer's disease and injected it into the brains of mice, and found that they went on to develop plaques and changes in the brain that are indicative of Alzheimer's. Researchers also injected brain tissue from a human without Alzheimer's into mice, and saw that they didn't develop any signs of the disease.
Soto said the inner workings of both Alzheimer's and prion diseases are similar -- they both involve a normal protein that becomes deformed and can then touch upon other normal proteins, making them into bad ones. Those proteins are what form plaques and tangles in the brain, that are believed to contribute to Alzheimer's disease.
Now, researchers are seeing if it's possible for transmission of Alzheimer's to occur under natural exposure, rather than in an artificial lab setting with brain tissue injections, researchers said.
Mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease are only known to be contracted by eating infected animal meat, according to KidsHealth.org.