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High Cholesterol Linked with Alzheimer's Disease

Update Date: Apr 16, 2013 12:20 PM EDT

High levels of blood cholesterol is known to be bad for your heart. However, recent research has pinpointed high cholesterol as a culprit in Alzheimer's disease. By studying seemingly unrelated more rare diseases, Down syndrome and Niemann Pick-C disease, researchers from Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome and the University of Colorado School of Medicine believe that they have uncovered the link.

According to the recent study, researchers looked at the pair of conditions, in particular, because of an interesting link. People with Down syndrome, in addition to being born with an incorrect number of chromosomes, are born with trisomy 21 in each of their cells. In addition, people with Down syndrome often also develop the brain pathology and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease before the age of 50. In some ways, researchers point out that Alzheimer's disease could be thought of as an acquired form of Down syndrome because as many as 10 percent of cells in Alzheimer's patients have three copies of chromosome 21.

That can be seen evidently in the effect that high cholesterol has on Alzheimer's disease. High levels of cholesterol wreak havoc on the division process among cells. Particularly in the presence of high levels of bad cholesterol, cells divide their chromosomes incorrectly, sending three copies to one cell and one copy to another cell, instead of two copies to each daughter cell. That chromosome is chromosome 21 - key to the development of Down syndrome. It is also the chromosome that encodes the amyloid peptide which, in turn, is key to the development of the amyloid filaments that build up in the brain during the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers are hopeful that targeting cholesterol may lead to novel treatments for Alzheimer's disease, as well as other diseases linked to incorrect cell division, like atherosclerosis and perhaps cancer. Already, there has been some progress in the area. For example, the researchers performed an experiment where they soaked cells in ethanol. Afterwards, when the cells encountered bad cholesterol, it had no effect on their cell division.

The study was recently published in the open-access journal PLoS One.

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