Could Sleep Help Prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s?

A new partnership between two leading medical research charities has launched today to explore how improving the brain’s waste disposal system could be the key to preventing Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

The glymphatic system, a recently discovered brain-wide pathway, works to remove waste products from the brain. Parkinson’s UK and Alzheimer’s Research UK have teamed up for a pioneering three-year project to find out whether boosting this system could help to clear toxic proteins, tau and alpha-synuclein, involved in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

The project will be led by Dr Ian Harrison at the Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging at UCL. Previous research has shown that sleep, exercise and low levels of alcohol may help the glymphatic system to clear out toxic proteins in the cerebrospinal fluid of mice. This new research aims to build on these findings, testing the impact of these factors in speeding up the glymphatic function in mouse models, as well as the effect of a potential new drug.

The mouse models will be specifically designed so the spread of alpha-synuclein and tau throughout the brain can be tracked. Small amounts of the toxic proteins will be injected into the mice, before using drugs to block the glymphatic system to find out how it affects the spread of the proteins.

By then testing a range of therapies to speed up the glymphatic system, their impact in the spread of alpha-synuclein and tau can be measured, along with the impact on movement-based and memory-based symptoms in the mouse models.

By understanding how the glymphatic system affects the accumulation and spread of proteins in the brain, and by finding a way to boost its function, it could lead to treatments that can target an important cause of both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Combined, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s affect an estimated one million people across the UK. Current treatments do not stop, slow down, or reverse either of the conditions.