Researchers have shown that reducing inflammation in the brain could potentially protect against memory and behavioural changes linked with the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, raising hopes of a new treatment pathway for the condition. 

The study, led by researchers at Southampton University and published in the journal Brain, showed that blocking a receptor in the brain responsible for regulating immune cells could limit the damaging effects of inflammation and protect against some of the symptoms of the disease. 

Researchers found that mice given a drug that blocks the action of the CSF1R protein, which regulates a particular type of immune cell, showed an improvement in symptoms compared to those who hadn’t received treatment, adding weight to the notion that inflammation in the brain could drive development of the disease.

The findings suggest that reducing this inflammation could therefore halt the progression of the disease, the researchers said, also noting that they hope the discovery will lead to an effective new treatment.

The study, which was jointly funded by the Medical Research Council and Alzheimer’s Research UK, also did not find a correlated reduction in the number of amyloid plaques in the brain, a key characteristic of the disease, which suggests other factors also play a significant role in driving the cognitive decline seen in patients.

“These findings are as close to evidence as we can get to show that this particular pathway is active in the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” said lead study author Diego Gomez-Nicola. “The next step is to work closely with our partners in industry to find a safe and suitable drug that can be tested to see if it works in humans.”