A pervasive element in our environment may have a hand in the development of Alzheimer's disease, a new study suggests.
The study, conducted both in mice and in human cells in a lab setting, showed that copper, which can be found in everyday comestibles from drinking water to produce, seem to prevent the body's ability to clear the Alzheimer's-associated compound amyloid beta from the brain, leading to its accumulation.
What's more, copper also seemed to play a role in the production of amyloid beta in the brain.
However, it's important to note that "copper is an essential metal and it is clear that these effects are due to exposure over a long period of time," study researcher Rashid Deane, Ph.D., who is a research professor in the neurosurgery department at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said in a statement. "The key will be striking the right balance between too little and too much copper consumption. Right now we cannot say what the right level will be, but diet may ultimately play an important role in regulating this process."
The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are based on study of copper's effects on mice, as well as in human cells in a lab setting. For the mouse part of the study, researchers "dosed" mice with low levels of copper for three months (lower than a human might be exposed to through a typical diet). The researchers found that the copper accumulated in the vessels going to the brain, stopping the functioning of a protein called LRP1 that typically works to remove amyloid beta. Researchers found the same action in the human cells, too.
Researchers also found that in mice, copper seems to boost amyloid beta production through stimulation of certain neurons, and also promoted big, hard-to-clear "logjams" of amyloid beta proteins.