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New Approach to Diagnosing and Treating Dementia
22 June 2012
Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin
Some dementia patients show symptoms of a malfunctioning immune system and can receive appropriate treatment
Scientists at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin have succeeded in recommending a new type of therapeutic approach to dementia. The study published in the journal Neurology* shows that immune reactions against the body’s own nerve cells can be the cause of advanced dementia and an appropriate immune suppressive therapy can develop with significant effectiveness.
Dementia burdens society with high costs, and those affected by it and their family members carry a tremendous psychosocial burden. Dementia is increasingly perceived as a sword of Damocles over an aging society due to its often unclear origin, difficult prevention and unsatisfactory therapies.
Together with a workgroup and cooperation partners in Germany and the US, Dr. Harald Prüß, physician at the Klinik für Neurologie of the Charité, was able to prove that dementia is also caused by the immune system. As an accessory symptom of an autoimmune disease, dementia can thus be treated. This approach to diagnostic criteria has been overlooked until now. It was proven that a number of patients in this study who suffered from advanced memory loss had developed an immune defense response with antibodies against an ion channel in the brain, a so-called NMDA-type glutamate channel. Particular proteins in the nerve cell membrane are reduced leading to the characteristic disruption in nerve function and synapsis loss. Those affected exhibit memory problems and abnormalities in mood and emotion. Eliminating these antibodies through hemodialysis improved the symptoms in cerebral metabolism in the hippocampus region – a part of the brain that is relevant for memory performance and particularly affected by dementia.
“Through the study results, a completely new approach to diagnosing dementia can possibly result. At the moment we are working on a follow-up study with larger test groups in order to verify our approach even further,” explains Harald Prüß. He adds: “The potential promise of this new approach is that completely new perspectives could result for an entire group of people suffering from dementia for whom no specific therapeutic option exists.”