Alzheimer’s disease and autism spectrum disorder have a complex relationship. Researchers at Israel’s Tel Aviv University suggest a single gene can increase rates of autism in young males while increasing rates of Alzheimer’s in elderly women. This relationship continues to be thoroughly analyzed by specialists in the field who have found a connection between the brain and immune system that they believe will help answer the many questions surrounding both neurological disorders. Researchers also suggest, based on recent studies, that the autistic brain could potentially be shielded from developing Alzheimer’s due to varying levels of brain plasticity associated with both conditions. As research continues, more light is shed on the connection between the two disorders and how they affect each other.
A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine identified vessels in the lymphatic system that were previously unknown. Lead researcher Jonathan Kipnis explains, “In Alzheimer’s there are accumulations of big protein chunks in the brain. We think they may be accumulating in the brain because they’re not being efficiently removed by these vessels.” The discovery of these vessels could mean increased understanding of what causes, prevents and treats neurological disorders. Kipnis continues, “We believe that for every neurological disease that has an immune system component to it, [such as autism and Alzheimer’s,] these vessels may play a major role.”
Research published in June 2014 reports that autism potentially defends individuals against Alzheimer’s due to brain plasticity. Brain plasticity, also called neuroplasticity, refers to the brain’s ability to respond to new information and incoming signals. Individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s typically have low brain plasticity. The study, conducted by researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brown University, found that individuals with autism have higher brain plasticity than the general population. Even though this neuroplasticity decreases with age, it starts at a high enough point in individuals with autism that it rarely falls to the levels associated with Alzheimer’s. As Cara Westmark, molecular biologist at the University of Wisconsin, states, “Looking at connections between autism and Alzheimer’s is really exciting. Both disorders are showing skyrocketing levels just in the past decade.”
If you or a loved one is struggling with autism, the effects of Alzheimer’s or a co-occurring disorder, help is available. Sovereign Health Group specializes in treating individuals struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a professional today.
Alzheimer’s, cognition and mental health part 3: The genetic component to early-onset Alzheimer’s
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer