Theories about the causes of AD

Contributed by: Michael Rafii, M.D., Ph.D - Director of the Memory Disorders Clinic at the University of California, San Diego.

Alzheimer’s disease is very complex and remains poorly understood at the pathological level. Several theories have emerged over the course of research in this field.

In the next series of blogs, I will describe these three prevailing theories of how scientists believe AD develops.

The oldest theory is the Cholinergic hypothesis, which proposes that AD is caused by reduced function of a certain chemical in the brain called acetylcholine. The chemical is known to be important in memory formation and brains of patients with AD have less acetylcholine. In fact, most medications currently approved for AD act by increasing acetylcholine levels in the brain. However, their ability to treat the disease has been limited, indicating other factors at play.

It is now thought that the acetylcholine deficiency plays a contributing role in the development of AD, but it is not likely to be the central cause.

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