Consider this: Alzheimerâ€™s is a uniquely human disorder. But why? Why donâ€™t nonhuman primates, such as monkeys, get Alzheimerâ€™s disease. Monkeys form the senile plaques that are identical to the plaques found in humans. So do other animals.
â€œYet, despite the fact that nonhuman primates make this protein that we know is very important in the pathogenesis of Alzheimerâ€™s disease, they donâ€™t develop the full disease,â€ says Lary Walker, PhD. Walker is an associate professor at Yerkes National Primate Research Center.
â€œThey donâ€™t develop the tangles we associate with Alzheimerâ€™s disease, the neuronal loss, the shrinkage of the brain, and they donâ€™t get demented in the sense that humans do,â€ says Walker.
When our bodies make a protein, the protein tends to fold into a functional form. But when it comes to Alzheimerâ€™s disease, some proteins misfold, becoming sticky and then combining with one another. In their collective form, the proteins can then form plaques or tangles, the two types of lesions associated with Alzheimerâ€™s disease.
And for some unknown reason, people who have plaques usually go on to form tangles. But people who have tangles donâ€™t always go on to form plaques. No one is sure why. But thatâ€™s what researcher Walker wants to find out.
To listen to Walkerâ€™s own words about Alzheimerâ€™s disease, access Emoryâ€™s new Sound Science podcast.