The researchers found that the choroid plexus acts as a sort of "fishnet" that captures the protein, called beta-amyloid, and prevents it from building up in the cerebrospinal fluid, which surrounds and bathes the brain and spinal cord. Moreover, tissue in the organ is able to soak up large amounts of the protein and may contain enzymes capable of digesting beta-amyloid, said Wei Zheng (pronounced Way Zsheng), an associate professor in the School of Health Sciences at Purdue University.
The findings represent the first time that researchers have identified the potential existence of a natural mechanism in the brain for removing beta-amyloid.
"This newly uncovered pathway may help explain how normal brains balance this protein and how an imbalance caused by aging, genetic or environmental factors may lead to or worsen Alzheimer's disease," Zheng said.
Researchers had already known that the cerebrospinal fluid in the brains of Alzheimer's patients contains abnormally high quantities of beta-amyloid fragments. Beta-amyloid deposits accumulate over a period of years, resulting in abnormal clumps, or plaque, typical of Alzheimer's disease. Scientists do not yet know whether the disease is caused by the plaque formations or beta-amyloids themselves.
The discovery suggests that a malfunctioning choroid plexus could allow too much of the protein to build up in the brain.
Findings are detailed in a research paper written by postdoctoral research associate Janelle S. Crossgrove, postdoctoral fellow G. Jane Li and Zheng, all in the Purdue School of Health Sciences. The researchers will be honored on April 2 with a best paper award from the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine.