How Alzheimers Disease May Kills Brain Cells That Keep You Awake

How Alzheimers Disease May Kills Brain Cells That Keep You Awake

How Alzheimers Disease May Kills Brain Cells That Keep You Awake


Alzheimer’s disease might be attacking the brain cells responsible for keeping people awake, resulting in daytime napping, according to a new study.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive form of dementia. Dementia is a broader term for conditions caused by brain injuries or diseases that negatively affect memory, thinking, and behavior. These changes interfere with daily living.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Most people with the disease get a diagnosis after age 65. If it’s diagnosed before then, it’s generally referred to as early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

What has Alzheimer’s disease has to do with the brain cell that keeps you awake?

According to new discovery, excessive daytime napping might thus be considered an early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a statement from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

In the current study, researchers studied the brains of 13 people who’d had Alzheimer’s and died, as well as the brains from seven people who had not had the disease. The researchers specifically examined three parts of the brain that are involved in keeping us awake: the locus coeruleus, the lateral hypothalamic area and the tuberomammillary nucleus. These three parts of the brain work together in a network to keep us awake during the day.

The researchers compared the number of neurons, or brain cells, in these regions in the healthy and diseased brains. They also measured the level of a telltale sign of Alzheimer’s: tau proteins. These proteins build up in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s and are thought to slowly destroy brain cells and the connections between them.

The brains from patients who had Alzheimer’s in this study had significant levels of tau tangles in these three brain regions, compared to the brains from people without the disease. What’s more, in these three brain regions, people with Alzheimer’s had lost up to 75% of their neurons.

“It’s remarkable because it’s not just a single brain nucleus that’s degenerating, but the whole wakefulness-promoting network,” lead author Jun Oh, a research associate at UCSF, said in the statement. “This means that the brain has no way to compensate, because all of these functionally related cell types are being destroyed at the same time.”

The researchers also compared the brains from people with Alzheimer’s with tissue samples from seven people who had two other forms of dementia caused by the accumulation of tau: progressive supranuclear palsy and corticobasal disease. Results showed that despite the buildup of tau, these brains did not show damage to the neurons that promote wakefulness.

Though amyloid proteins, and the plaques that they form, have been the major target in several clinical trials of potential Alzheimer’s treatments, increasing evidence suggests that tau proteins play a more direct role in promoting symptoms of the disease, according to the statement.

The new findings suggest that “we need to be much more focused on understanding the early stages of tau accumulation in these brain areas in our ongoing search for Alzheimer’s treatments,” senior author Dr. Lea Grinberg, an associate professor of neurology and pathology at the UCSF Memory and Aging Center, said in the statement.

Alzheimer’s Diseases Symptoms

Memory problems are usually the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Remembering things that have been recently learned is especially difficult. Some other symptoms are:

  • Confusion about places or times (may be mild at first)
  • Unable to find words with speaking
  • Misplacing objects you use regularly
  • Changes to personality
  • New irritability
  • Making bad decisions
  • Difficulty organizing thoughts
  • Repeating things over and over
  • Forgetting things and not remembering them later
  • Difficulty with numerical calculations
  • Difficulty responding to everyday problems
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia and distrust of others (including immediate family or close friends).

This disease does not affect everyone in the same way, so individuals may experience symptoms at different times. If you or a loved one has any of these symptoms and they are causing problems with everyday life, you should talk to your doctor.

Alzheimer’s Causes

The exact cause of Alzheimer’s is not clear, but there are a number of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can contribute. However, what is known is that Alzheimer’s damages the brain and its brain cells. The brain of someone with Alzheimer’s usually has two types of abnormalities: plaques and tangles.


Plaques are clumps of protein that get in the way of communication between brain cells. This causes damage and possibly even the death of these brain cells. These protein clumps are called amyloid plaques.


The system that carries nutrients through the brain is a protein called Tau. In the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s, threads of this protein (better known as neurofibrillary tangles) collect in the brain cells. These tangles prevent nutrients from being carried through the brain.


The apolipoprotein E gene (APOE) has a part in late-onset Alzheimer’s. However, having this gene does not determine that you will definitely get Alzheimer’s. Most early-onset cases are caused by changes in certain genes. These changes are inherited.

Most people with Down Syndrome will eventually develop Alzheimer’s. It is believed to be because of their extra copy of chromosome 21.

Preventing Alzheimer’s

There’s no known cure for Alzheimer’s, there are no foolproof preventive measures. However, researchers are focusing on overall healthy lifestyle habits as ways of preventing cognitive decline.

The following measures may help:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Try cognitive training exercises.
  • Eat a plant-based diet.
  • Consume more antioxidants.
  • Maintain an active social life.

Be sure to talk with your doctor before making any big changes in your lifestyle.

This article on "Hkitnob: Health Columns" is for informational purposes only, and is not meant to offer medical advice.