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Scientists at UCSB link brain plaques in Alzheimers disease to eye disease

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) Scientists at the Center for the Study of Macular Degeneration at the Neuroscience Research Institute of the University of California, Santa Barbara have found a link between the brain plaques that form in Alzheimers disease and the deposits in the retina that are associated with age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is a disease that leads to loss of central vision and affects 5 to 10 percent of the population over age 60.

Don H. Anderson and Lincoln V. Johnson, the scientists who head the study, said that both diseases appear to begin with the development of inflammation and the appearance of a type of plaque. Yet no one knows their exact causes.

"Epidemiological evidence gathered in Europe suggests that those with advanced AMD are at somewhat greater risk of developing Alzheimer's disease," said Anderson. "But, at this point, it is not clear whether the elevated risk is attributable to common pathogenic factors, or to common risk factors including smoking and atherosclerosis."

The latest findings were presented at the annual meetings of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. on May 8. The comparison between these disease processes was first outlined by the scientists in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in September and in an article in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, also in September.

Lincoln Johnson, senior research biologist who is first author of the PNAS paper, explained that the protein amyloid beta is thought to stimulate the inflammation process. He said that many researchers believe it is the culprit in the Alzheimers disease process. Amyloid beta is a toxic protein that tends to stick together and kill neighboring cells in the brain. The same toxic protein builds up in the deposits known as drusen that are located adjacent to the photoreceptor cell layers in the retina.

Regarding age-related macular degeneration, J
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Contact: Gail Gallessich
gail.g@ia.ucsb.edu
805-893-7220
University of California - Santa Barbara
8-May-2003


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