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Inflammatory Response To Infection And Injury May Worsen Dementia

Posted Sep 22 2008 10:10am

Inflammation in the brain resulting from infection or injury may accelerate the progress of dementia, research funded by the Wellcome Trust suggests. The findings, published recently in the journal Biological Psychiatry, may have implications for the treatment and care of those living with dementia.

Systemic inflammation – inflammation in the body as a whole – is already known to have direct effects on brain function. Episodes of delirium, in which elderly and demented patients become extremely disoriented and confused, are frequently caused by infections, injury or surgery in these patients. For example, urinary tract infections, which are typically bacterial, appear to be particularly potent inducers of psychiatric symptoms.

Until now, there had been little research into the impact of systemic inflammation on the progress of dementia and neurodegenerative diseases. However, with over 700,000 people currently living in the UK with dementia – a figure set to rise with our ageing population – scientists are keen to understand more about the mechanisms behind such diseases.

Now, in a study to mimic the effect of bacterial infection in people with dementia, Dr Colm Cunningham and colleagues at Trinity College Dublin, in collaboration with Professor Hugh Perry at the University of Southampton have shown that the inflammatory response to infection in mice with prior neurodegenerative disease leads to exaggerated symptoms of the infection, causes changes in memory and learning and leads to accelerated progression of dementia.

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