Leading Alzheimer’s Researcher Sue Griffin Urges Physicians to Talk Prevention with Patients
Exercise, healthy diet and maintaining good BMI essential to preventing disease By BECKY GILLETTE
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS)/Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System (CAVHS) researcher Sue Griffin, PhD, has gained international recognition for a significant breakthrough in the early events and potential for strategies toward overcoming and preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Griffin is a pioneer in researching the role of neuroinflammation in the genesis and progression of Alzheimer’s. Griffin’s research specifically focuses on the way neurons respond to stress to promote neuron survival in situations that are acute, that is, stresses that are of limited intensity and duration. “In short, limited neuronal stress leads to activation of the brain’s immune cells, glia, for the production and release of cytokines that, in turn, prompt the neurons to make proteins necessary for membrane and structural integrity,” Griffin said. “One of these proteins that is produced in response to glial cell release of the immune cytokine interleukin-1 (IL-1) is the beta amyloid precursor protein, which is an integral membrane protein that is necessary for membrane repair. Another neuronal protein that is produced in response to production and release of IL-1 is a small protein called P-tau that is necessary to maintain the neuron’s internal structure. “All is well when a stress is limited so that neuronal repair and normal order is restored. Problems begin when the neuronal stress is prolonged, for example, years of an unhealthy life style with overeating and insufficient exercise. In this situation, we must consider the effect of long term neuronal stress, prolonged glial responses with prolonged overproduction and release of cytokines like IL-1 that are inflammatory – perhaps necessary in the body to fight pathogens but not good in the brain over any extended period. Why is that? Because the overproduction of the beta amyloid precursor protein over a prolonged period results in the laying down of the beta amyloid plaques that are abundant in the brain of Alzheimer patients, getting in the way of the normal flow of information from one neuron as it speaks to another, and generally take up a lot of brain space.” Griffin said that, unfortunately, the prolonged production of the other protein, which IL-1 induces, P-tau, results in formation of tangles of P-tau inside the neuron another feature of Alzheimer’s. Griffin’s Cytokine Cycle© conceptualizes how neuronal stresses such as head arkansasmedicalnews
trauma, genetics, an unhealthy life style, and/or aging induce excesses in cytokines, creating positive feedback cycles that culminate in the appearance of tangled proteins inside the brain’s nerve cells and the plaques outside the nerve cells that we see in Alzheimer patient brains. Griffin works with a large team of investigators under the aegis of an NIH/ NIA-sponsored program at UAMS, and collaborates with scientists elsewhere in the world, all focused on finding a preventive that might delay onset and, in that way, “prevent” or “cure” Alzheimer’s. Because of the current crisis of lifestyle diseases, which are now recognized as potential risk factors for development of Alzheimer’s, she feels it is urgently important for providers to talk to patients about prevention. “It is so apparent, especially here in Arkansas, what we must do; that is, we must begin to adopt and practice healthier lifestyles not just for Alzheimer’s, but, importantly toward preventing a variety of diseases that often occur years before Alzheimer’s is likely. All are intimately linked. You can’t talk about what is good for the brain without talking about what’s good for the heart – and really, the whole body.” Griffin said she hopes physicians’ message for parents is that we need to make sure that our children are living a healthful lifestyle. “Parents should teach by example. We have a big problem right here in Arkansas with high rates of obesity in children, which goes hand-in-hand with type 2 diabetes. Both of those conditions should be avoided and more likely could be by eating right and getting enough exercise.” What doctors say really matters,
meaning that taking even just one minute to suggest changing from the high carbohydrate diets of many children to more
well-balanced meals, Griffin said. It is hard to describe to a five-yearold, or even some thirty-year-olds, what a carbohydrate is. But Griffin says even young children can benefit by education about The Nutrition Facts that are on most everything we buy like how much a teaspoon of sugar weighs (four grams) and how many grams of sugar are in a regular size can of soda pop (39 grams). “The important message is that there are things people reading this article can do to help children lower their risk of having Alzheimer’s in old age, but more importantly having mid-life horrors like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and liver and pancreatic cancers that are associated with obesity and its consequences,” Griffin said. “The public deserves and needs to know this. Let them know there are really good reasons to be watching what they are doing with regard to their weight, diet, (CONTINUED ON PAGE 5)
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