Alzheimer's: How light therapy could protect the brain

Researchers have previously shown that a type of light therapy could potentially reduce toxic proteins that build up in the brain in Alzheimer's disease. Now, the same team has identified what happens at cell level to achieve this result.

Light therapy boosts a form of brain wave called gamma oscillation, which research suggests is impaired in people with Alzheimer's disease.

More recently, the MIT team revealed that combining light therapy with sound therapy extended the beneficial effects even further.

Those studies also saw that light therapy can improve memory in mice genetically predisposed to develop Alzheimer's disease and spatial memory in older mice without the condition.

The most recent investigation, which now features in the journal Neuron, has shown that boosting gamma oscillations can improve the connection between nerve cells, reduce inflammation, and preserve against cell death in mouse models of Alzheimer's.

It also shows that the treatment's far-reaching effects involve not only nerve cells, or neurons, but also a type of immune cell called microglia.

"It seems," says senior study author Li-Huei Tsai, a professor of neuroscience and director of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT, "that neurodegeneration is largely prevented."

Alzheimer's and toxic proteins

Alzheimer's is a condition that gradually destroys brain tissue and associated function through the irreversible loss of cells.

A 2018 report by Alzheimer's Disease International reveals that 50 million people worldwide have dementia, and that for two-thirds of them, Alzheimer's disease is the cause.

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