Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

Font Size

Immune System Problem Linked to Alzheimer's

Defective Cells May Be Unable to Clean Up Brain Plaque in Alzheimer's Disease
WebMD Health News

June 10, 2005 -- New research shows that plaque buildup in the brains of Alzheimer's patients may be related to immune system problems.

Researchers in California recently studied 24 people with probable or possible Alzheimer's disease, as well as 20 healthy people. The results appear in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

Alzheimer's disease Alzheimer's disease gradually damages areas of the brain involved in memory, intelligence, judgment, language, and behavior. A main cause is thought to be the buildup of plaque in the brain. It's the most common form of dementia, or mental decline, in older adults.

Alzheimer's disease is most common among older adults, but it's not a normal part of aging. The Alzheimer's Association says 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease. That's twice as many as in 1980, but far less than the 11-16 million cases that the group says could be seen by 2050 due to the aging population.

Immune System Problem

In the new study, scientists tested participants' blood. The researchers spotted a difference in immune system cells called macrophages.

"Macrophages are the janitors of the innate immune system, gobbling up waste products in the brain and throughout the body," says researcher Milan Fiala, MD, in a news release. Fiala works in the medical school of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), as well as the Greater Los Angeles VA Medical Center.

Participants' macrophages took a test-tube challenge: Clear away amyloid-beta, a building block of Alzheimer's-related brain plaque. Macrophages from healthy participants were up to the task, but those from Alzheimer's patients couldn't clean up adequately. Other parts of the immune system may have to step in to get the job done, say the researchers.

Searching for Solutions

"If further study shows that this defective macrophage function is present in most Alzheimer's disease patients, new hormonal or immune-boosting approaches may offer new approaches to treating the disease," says Fiala.

He says the immune system glitch may also be present in other diseases involving a buildup of waste and plaques, such as heart disease and Gaucher disease, a rare metabolic condition.

Fiala and colleagues are currently doing lab tests with a naturally occurring hormone called insulin-like growth factor. They also plan to investigate other natural substances, such as curcumin, a chemical in the curry spice turmeric, says the news release. Curcumin has shown potential against Alzheimer's disease Curcumin has shown potential against Alzheimer's disease and cancer in other experiments on mice.

Today on WebMD

Remember your finger
When it’s more than just forgetfulness.
senior man with serious expression
Which kinds are treatable?
senior man
Common symptoms to look for.
mri scan of human brain
Can drinking red wine reverse the disease?
eating blueberries
Colored mri of brain
Close up of elderly couple holding hands
mature woman
Woman comforting ailing mother
Senior woman with serious expression