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A team of researchers at the University of Rochester are exploring the role inflammation plays in Alzheimer’s disease. Like Rheumatoid Arthritis, which causes inflammation and irreparable damage to joints, it appears that there is also an inflammatory mechanism involved in patients with Alzheimer’s disease that is just as destructive.

The inflammation that appears in the brains of individuals with Alzheimer’s happens slowly. Why the inflammatory process even begins is speculative, but it is thought that it might be the body’s efforts to repair a brain injury. The possible conditions that might be considered potential brain injury candidates includes a viral infection, head injury, genetic susceptibility, or a gradual buildup of a toxic protein known as amyloid-beta.

As the body attempts to correct the problem to the injured brain, inflammation occurs and a cycle is established. This cycle eventually spirals out of control, killing brain cells in the process. The result is Alzheimer’s disease.

The chemical messenger emitted by some brain cells known as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) is considered to be involved in the Alzheimer’s development process. TNF plays a major role in inflammation and is known to be present in higher amounts in patients with Alzheimer’s.  How TNF may be contributing to the disease is not known.

Drugs that target TNF are currently used to treat people with Rheumatoid Arthritis. The Rochester researchers are currently focusing their energies on how medications that target TNF might be used in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease.