Alzheimer’s disease spreads from brain cell to brain cell, like an infection—a discovery that could someday allow doctors to halt the disease in its tracks by blocking the cell-to-cell transmission. Two new studies in mice found that Alzheimer’s spreads like a virus, but it's not an actual virus that's spreading, it's distorted tau proteins. Doctors could potentially use a tau-blocking antibody to stop its spread, the New York Times explains.
Researchers knew that Alzheimer’s starts in the memory-making area of the brain and moves outward, but have long questioned how exactly the disease spreads. They had considered the possibility that some areas of the brain are simply more resilient and better-equipped to fight the disease. The results seen in the two new studies, showing cell-to-cell transmission, were "very unexpected, very intriguing," says one researcher. Scientists think it's possible that other degenerative diseases, including Parkinson's, spread in the same fashion. (Read more tau protein stories.)