Alzheimer's Disease Transferred Through Human Growth Hormone

Researchers at the University College of London think they’ve found a link between human growth hormone and the development of the neurodegenerative disease.


Researchers at the University College of London think they’ve found a link between human growth hormone and the development of the neurodegenerative disease. By studying the brain tissue of eight recipients who died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) after being injected with the hormone, the scientists discovered that the recipients also had signs of early onset of Alzheimer’s. In short, if the disease can be passed through hormones, then the disease might not be entirely a genetic disorder.

Of course, other scientists are doubtful — mainly because it is extremely difficult to determine the paths of disease transmission. Nevertheless, there is evidence that mice can contract Alzheimer’s by being injected with proteins from Alzheimer’s patients.

In short, if the disease can be passed through hormones, then the disease might not be entirely a genetic disorder.

Understanding how a disease develops is obviously key to treating those who suffer from it. The most popular treatments are medications that help increase the brain’s levels of acetylcholine, a chemical that helps neurons transmit information to one another. However, a recent study found that resveratrol — the antioxidant found in red wine and chocolate — can change the amyloid-beta ratios in the brain (amyloid-beta is a neuro-protein), which in turn helped to slow the progression of the disease.

If Alzheimer’s is indeed contagious, that could change how doctors treat it and other so-called genetic diseases as well. Already, epigenetics — or cellular genetics that considers the impact that environmental factors have on genes — has determined that diet can change the make-up a person’s DNA that can then be passed on to his or her offspring.

In one study, Swedish scientists examined the genes of people who had died of cardiovascular disease and diabetes and found that availability of food to a father or grandfather before puberty was directly correlative to the development of these diseases in their children and grandchildren. Perhaps then with Alzheimer’s, the "contagious" aspect could be related to how genes change or develop when exposed to influencing hormones and proteins.

Alzheimer's isn't a genetic disease, says Ottavio Arancio, an Alzheimer's researcher at Columbia University.

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Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.