The National Digest

Alzheimer’s Targets Brain Cells That Help People Stay Awake

In part of a human brain stem, a healthy nerve cell (red, left) releases a chemical messenger involved in wakefulness. Nearby, a nerve cell (brown, right) packed with tau, a protein tied to Alzheimer’s, is too damaged to work properly.

Alzheimer’s disease destroys command centers in the brain that keep people awake. That finding could explain why the disease often brings daytime drowsiness.

Sleep problems can precede dementias, including Alzheimer’s, sometimes by decades. But the new result, described online August 12 in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, suggests that disordered sleeping isn’t just an early harbinger of Alzheimer’s. Instead, sleep trouble is “part of the disease,” says Lea Grinberg, a neuropathologist at the University of California, San Francisco.

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