Heavy Snoring Affects Neurotransmitter Involved in Alzheimer's

Author:  Hoi See Tsao

Institution:  Wellesley College
Date:  June 2007

Are you a heavy snorer? You could be affecting your own health in addition to your partner's beauty sleep. Researchers from the University of Leeds in Great Britain recently discovered that a build-up of glutamate, a neurotransmitter, in brain cells called astrocytes, contributes to the development of Alzheimer's disease, as well as the cellular process that allows the chemical to collect. Glutamate forms when the brain does not have access to enough oxygen, such as during a stroke or even during heavy snoring. The team published their findings in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Chris Peers, the lead researcher, said that the study was important as it suggested why beta amyloid, the protein that builds up in Alzheimer's disease, is important in triggering the disease.

Past studies have shown that low oxygen levels can cause astrocytes to increase production of beta amyloid, the protein fragments previously implicated in the development of Alzheimer's. This study suggests that the increased beta amyloid production may block expression of the proteins needed for astrocytes to regulate glutamate levels. Glutamate is then free to build up, eventually leading to brain cell death and the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

"This is an important factor in what's going on in hypoxic brains. Even though the patient may outwardly recover, the hidden cell damage may be irreversible," Peers explained. "It could even be an issue for people who snore heavily, whose sleep patterns are such that there will be times in the night when their brain is hypoxic - deprived of sufficient oxygen."

The head of research at the Alzheimer's Society, Susanne Sorensen, said, "The team examined the role of cells that support neurons in the brain. This is exciting because rather than focusing on neurons they looked at processes in the brain, which until now have not be researched in so much detail."

According to co-author Hugh Pearson, understanding the processes that link stroke with Alzheimer's disease could aid the development of post-stroke treatments to intervene and prevent Alzheimer's disease.

Written by Hoi See Tsao