A genetic variant which may protect against Alzheimer's has been uncovered by researchers in a potential breakthrough.
Scientists at Washington University in St Louis analysed spinal fluid samples from around 800 participants. Some had the memory-robbing disorder.
They discovered variations in the gene MS4A4A altered levels of a protein heavily linked to Alzheimer's, called TREM2.
Some variants were linked with either higher levels of the protein, which scientists said appeared to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's.
Others were linked to lower levels of TREM2, which the results suggested increased the risk of the disorder.
The genes influence Alzheimer's risk by altering levels of TREM2, a protein (shown stained in red) that is believed to help microglia cells clear excessive amounts of the Alzheimer's proteins amyloid and tau from the brain. The MS4A4A protein is shown stained in green
TREM2 is thought to 'ingest' the proteins amyloid β and tau, which cause the tell-tale plaques in an Alzheimer's patient's brain.
The researchers now hope MS4A4A could be a 'target' for future Alzheimer's treatments. It is currently incurable, with existing therapies only being able to temporarily ease symptoms.
Dementia affects 850,000 people in the UK, of which 62 per cent have Alzheimer's – the most common form, according to the Alzheimer's Society.
And in the US, 5.8 million people live with the condition, which is set to rise to nearly 14 million by 2050, Alzheimer's Association statistics show.
TREM2 is known to play a 'critical role' in the activation and survival of microglial cells, the researchers wrote in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Scientists at Washington University in St Louis analysed spinal fluid samples from around 800 participants. Some had the memory-robbing disorder
These are a specialised form of immune cell that removes damaged neurones and maintains the health of the central nervous system.
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory, thinking skills and the ability to perform simple tasks.
It is the cause of 60 percent to 70 percent of cases of dementia.
The majority of people with Alzheimer's are age 65 and older.
More than five million Americans have Alzheimer’s.
It is unknown what causes Alzheimer's. Those who have the APOE gene are more likely to develop late-onset Alzheimer's.
Signs and symptoms:Difficulty remembering newly learned information Disorientation Mood and behavioral changes Suspicion about family, friends and professional caregivers More serious memory loss Difficulty with speaking, swallowing and walking
Stages of Alzheimer's:Mild Alzheimer's (early-stage) - A person may be able to function independently but is having memory lapses Moderate Alzheimer's (middle-stage) - Typically the longest stage, the person may confuse words, get frustrated or angry, or have sudden behavioral changes Severe Alzheimer's disease (late-stage) - In the final stage, individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, carry on a conversation and, eventually, control movement
There is no known cure for Alzheimer's, but experts suggest physical exercise, social interaction and adding brain boosting omega-3 fats to your diet to prevent or slowdown the onset of symptoms.
A past study suggested variations to TREM2 increase the risk of Alzheimer's by almost three times. However, TREM2's exact role in the disease is 'not well understood'.
To better grasp how it is linked to