Does zinc deficiency lead to faster decline in Alzheimer's disease?

Research project: Zinc deficiency drives inflammation-dependent cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease.

Lead Investigator: Dr Catherine Lawrence

Institution: University of Manchester

Grant type: Project grant

Duration: 36 months

Amount: £258,801

Why did we fund this project?

Comments from members of our Research Network:

'This sounds like a very good project with the possibility, if positive, of leading on to a clinical trial which would be very welcome, especially as it would be non-drug related.'

'It would be good, even critical, to know more about the biochemistry of zinc in the brain.'

'It would be so cheap and in terms of public health so 'cheap and safe'… I think this would be money well spent to check this hypothesis.'

What do we already know?

Zinc is essential for the healthy functioning of the body, including within the brain. Many older people do not have high enough levels of zinc in their bodies, and this is worse in people with Alzheimer's disease. The especially low levels in Alzheimer's may make the disease worse and lead to even poorer memory, although the reasons behind this remain unclear.

It is thought that zinc plays a key role within the brain of reducing inflammation; when we talk about inflammation in this context, we mean chemical changes related to the immune system being activated, rather than swelling. Inflammation in the brain is often seen in people with Alzheimer's disease, and is being investigated both as a cause and effect of the disease.

These researchers, and others, have found that low levels of zinc can make inflammation in the brain worse, and so directly impact on the progression of the disease.

What does this project involve?

This research will use mice who carry genes that cause changes in the brain and symptoms similar to those seen in people with Alzheimer's disease. The researchers will use these mice to study if low levels of zinc can make the changes in the brain and to memory worse, and exactly what changes within the brain are causing this. The researchers will also test if these changes can be reversed by an increase in the amount of zinc given to the mice.

How will this benefit people with dementia?

If the researchers are able to identify the cause of the worsening of Alzheimer's disease as a result of low zinc levels, and if these are reversible with zinc supplements, this could pave the way for a clinical study to see if the same effects are seen in people with Alzheimer's disease and whether taking zinc supplements is an effective treatment.