Cut the daydreaming, and you can lessen the neurodegenerative burden on your brain? Surprising new research suggests that how we use our brains may influence which parts of the brain are most vulnerable to amyloid-beta (AÎ²), which forms plaques in the brain in Alzheimerâ€™s disease.
In the June issue of Nature Neuroscience, Yerkes National Primate Research Center scientistÂ Lary Walker and Mathias Jucker from the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research in TÃ¼bingen, Germany summarize intriguing recent research on regional brain activity and AÎ² accumulation.
Neuroscientists have described a set of interconnected brain regions called the â€œdefault mode network,â€ which appear to be activated during activities such as introspection, memory retrieval, daydreaming and imagination. When a person engages in an externally directed task, such as reading, playing a musical instrument, or solving puzzles, activity in the default network decreases.
The Nature Neuroscience paper, from David Holtzman and colleagues at Washington University St. Louis, suggests prolonged metabolic activation of the default-mode network in mice can render that system vulnerable to AÎ² by accelerating AÎ² deposition and plaque growth.
This line of research turns the â€œuse it or lose itâ€ idea upside-down. Use the default network too much, and the effect may be harmful. Walker and Jucker suggest why education, for example, appears to head off Alzheimerâ€™s in epidemiological studies: by getting the brain involved in non-default/externally directed mode activity.
This idea has additional consequences that can be tested in the clinic. For example, by increasing metabolism in default-mode regions of the brain, prolonged wakefulness caused by sleep disorders might increase AÎ² burden.
Walker and Jucker conclude: â€œMeanwhile, perhaps the best strategy for lessening soluble AÎ² in the default mode network may be simply to work diligently, play hard and sleep well.â€