Inside the Brain: Alzheimer’s Brain Tour

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 1 Your brain is your most powerful organ, yet weighs only about three pounds. It has a texture similar to firm jelly.It has three main parts:

  1. The cerebrum fills up most of your skull. It is involved in remembering, problem solving, thinking, and feeling. It also controls movement.
  2. The cerebellum sits at the back of your head, under the cerebrum. It controls coordination and balance.
  3. The brain stem sits beneath your cerebrum in front of your cerebellum. It connects the brain to the spinal cord and controls automatic functions such as breathing, digestion, heart rate and blood pressure.
2. Supply lines
 2 Your brain is nourished by one of your body’s richest networks of blood vessels.With each heartbeat, arteries carry about 20 to 25 percent of your blood to your brain, where billions of cells use about 20 percent of the oxygen and fuel your blood carries.When you are thinking hard, your brain may use up to 50 percent of the fuel and oxygen.

The whole vessel network includes veins and capillaries in addition to arteries.

3. The cortex: “Thinking wrinkles”
 1 Your brain’s wrinkled surface is a specialized outer layer of the cerebrum called the cortex. Scientists have “mapped” the cortex by identifying areas strongly linked to certain functions.Specific regions of the cortex:

  • Interpret sensations from your body, and sights, sounds and smells from the outside world.
  • Generate thoughts, solve problems and make plans.
  • Form and store memories.
  • Control voluntary movement.
4. Left brain/right brain
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Your brain is divided into right and left halves. Experts are not certain how the “left brain” and “right brain” may differ in function, except:

  • The left half controls movement on the body’s right side.
  • The right half controls the body’s left side.
  • In most people, the language area is chiefly on the left.
5. The neuron forest
 5 The real work of your brain goes on in individual cells. An adult brain contains about 100 billion nerve cells, or neurons, with branches that connect at more than 100 trillion points. Scientists call this dense, branching network a “neuron forest.”Signals traveling through the neuron forest form the basis of memories, thoughts, and feelings.Neurons are the chief type of cell destroyed by Alzheimer’s disease.

 

6. Cell signaling
 6 Signals that form memories and thoughts move through an individual nerve cell as a tiny electrical charge.Nerve cells connect to one another at synapses. When a charge reaches a synapse, it may trigger release of tiny bursts of chemicals called neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters travel across the synapse, carrying signals to other cells. Scientists have identified dozens of neurotransmitters.Alzheimer’s disease disrupts both the way electrical charges travel within cells and the activity of neurotransmitters.
7. Signal coding
 7 100 billion nerve cells…100 trillion synapses…dozens of neurotransmitters…This “strength in numbers” provides your brain’s raw material. Over time, our experiences create patterns in signal type and strength. These patterns of activity explain how, at the cellular level, our brains code our thoughts, memories, skills and sense of who we are.The positron emission tomography (PET) scan on the left shows typical patterns of brain activity associated with:

  • Reading words
  • Hearing words
  • Thinking about words
  • Saying words
8. Alzheimer’s changes the whole brain
 8 Alzheimer’s disease leads to nerve cell death and tissue loss throughout the brain. Over time, the brain shrinks dramatically, affecting nearly all its functions.These images show:

  • A brain without the disease
  • A brain with advanced Alzheimer’s
  • How the two brains compare
9. More brain changes
 9 Here is another view of how massive cell loss changes the whole brain in advanced Alzheimer’s disease. This slide shows a crosswise “slice” through the middle of the brain between the ears.In the Alzheimer’s brain:

  • The cortex shrivels up, damaging areas involved in thinking, planning and remembering.
  • Shrinkage is especially severe in the hippocampus, an area of the cortex that plays a key role in formation of new memories.
  • Ventricles (fluid-filled spaces within the brain) grow larger.
10. Under the microscope
 10 Scientists can also see the terrible effects of Alzheimer’s disease when they look at brain tissue under the microscope:

  • Alzheimer’s tissue has many fewer nerve cells and synapses than a healthy brain.
  • Plaques, abnormal clusters of protein fragments, build up between nerve cells.
  • Dead and dying nerve cells contain tangles, which are made up of twisted strands of another protein.

Scientists are not absolutely sure what causes cell death and tissue loss in the Alzheimer’s brain, but plaques and tangles are prime suspects.

11. More about plaques
 11 Plaques form when protein pieces called beta-amyloid (BAY-tuh AM-uh-loyd) clump together. Beta-amyloid comes from a larger protein found in the fatty membrane surrounding nerve cells.Beta-amyloid is chemically “sticky” and gradually builds up into plaques.The most damaging form of beta-amyloid may be groups of a few pieces rather than the plaques themselves. The small clumps may block cell-to-cell signaling at synapses. They may also activate immune system cells that trigger inflammation and devour disabled cells.
12. More about tangles
 12 Tangles destroy a vital cell transport system made of proteins. This electron microscope picture shows a cell with some healthy areas and other areas where tangles are forming.In healthy areas:

  • The transport system is organized in orderly parallel strands somewhat like railroad tracks. Food molecules, cell parts and other key materials travel along the “tracks.”
  • A protein called tau (rhymes with wow) helps the tracks stay straight.

 

In areas where tangles are forming:

  • Tau collapses into twisted strands called tangles.
  • The tracks can no longer stay straight. They fall apart and disintegrate.
  • Nutrients and other essential supplies can no longer move through the cells, which eventually die.
13. Progression through the brain
 13 Plaques and tangles (shown in the blue-shaded areas) tend to spread through the cortex in a predictable pattern as Alzheimer’s disease progresses.The rate of progression varies greatly. People with Alzheimer’s live an average of eight years, but some people may survive up to 20 years. The course of the disease depends in part on age at diagnosis and whether a person has other health conditions.

  • Earliest Alzheimer’s – changes may begin 20 years or more before diagnosis.
  • Mild to moderate Alzheimer’s stages – generally last from 2 – 10 years.
  • Severe Alzheimer’s – may last from 1 – 5 years.
14. Earliest Alzheimer’s stages
 14 In the earliest stages, before symptoms can be detected with current tests, plaques and tangles begin to form in brain areas involved in:

  • Learning and memory
  • Thinking and planning
15. Mild to moderate Alzheimer’s
 15 In mild to moderate stages, brain regions important in memory and thinking and planning develop more plaques and tangles than were present in early stages. As a result, individuals develop problems with memory or thinking serious enough to interfere with work or social life. They may also get confused and have trouble handling money, expressing themselves and organizing their thoughts. Many people with Alzheimer’s are first diagnosed in these stages.Plaques and tangles also spread to areas involved in:

  • Speaking and understanding speech
  • Your sense of where your body is in relation to objects around you

As Alzheimer’s progresses, individuals may experience changes in personality and behavior and have trouble recognizing friends and family members.

16. Severe Alzheimer’s disease
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Source : Alz.org Research centre

In advanced Alzheimer’s disease, most of the cortex is seriously damaged. The brain shrinks dramatically due to widespread cell death. Individuals lose their ability to communicate, to recognize family and loved ones and to care for themselves.
By | 2017-09-28T07:48:17+00:00 January 31st, 2015|Resources|1 Comment

About the Author:

The Jura Care Research Team is dedicated to bringing insightful and valuable information to the public, within the domain of Alzheimer's and other forms of Dementia. Content published online is for informational purposes and does not necessarily reflect the view point or perspective of the Jura Care Village. The Jura Care Team does not claim any ownership of the content it publishes online.

One Comment

  1. Romary Wegerle May 11, 2015 at 1:02 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this most interesting article on the Tour of an Alzheimer affected Brain. It is so well and clearly explained.

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