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Scientists Use Light and Sound to Improve Alzheimer’s Disease in Mice
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Scientists at MIT have discovered that strobe lights and low-pitched buzzing sounds can help clear harmful proteins from the brains of mice engineered to have Alzheimer’s-like conditions. It appears that using light and sound triggers the mice’s brain waves, which in turn, fight the disease. Scientists haven’t been able to try it out on humans, but the technology seems promising.
The mice were genetically engineered so their brains mimic the conditions of Alzheimer’s disease. Using an older study, which suggested that flashing strobe lights into a mouse’s eyes helped treat the condition, the MIT science team added sound to find out if it would improve results – and it did.
Light and sound trick parts of the brain into producing gamma frequencies – brain waves that are most active when people are searching for memories and paying close attention to what’s happening to make sense of the world around them.
Alzheimer’s disease is partly caused by tau and amyloid proteins that go haywire in the brain. The proteins form long strands and clump together, which prevents parts of the brain from functioning properly.
"When we combine visual and auditory stimulation for a week, we see the engagement of the prefrontal cortex and a very dramatic reduction of amyloid," says Li-Huei Tsai, one of the researchers from MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.
The scientists chose to use sound in conjunction with the strobe lights – mostly because exposure to strobe lights only affects the amyloid build-up in the parts of the brain associated with visual stimulation. After a week of treatment combining light and sound, researchers discovered a significant drop in amyloid build-up in the parts of the brain associated with memory.
Microglial cells – the brain’s trash collectors – went crazy picking up the amyloid build-up, too.
"These microglia just pile on top of one another around the plaques," says Tsai.
The results weren’t just visible on brain scans, either. The mice who were treated performed cognitive tasks better than their untreated counterparts did.
What Do You Think?
We’re a long way from testing these therapies on humans, but it does look promising. Have you heard about any new and exciting developments? I’d love to hear your take, so please join the conversation my Facebook page or on my Twitter feed.