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Neuroinflammation and Alzheimer’s Disease

Find out how neuroinflammation is linked to the most common cause of dementia and why more research on this topic is critical.

Approximately 6.9 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s disease, an irreversible brain disease that affects memory, thinking, and the ability to complete daily tasks. It is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80% of all dementia cases.

Age is the top risk factor for Alzheimer’s, and other genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors can also play a role in causing dementia-related diseases. But scientists don’t fully know what causes Alzheimer’s disease. 

It’s believed that neuroinflammation — swelling in the brain and spinal cord — has an impact, but more research is needed to understand when and how neuroinflammation contributes to neurodegeneration (when nerve cells lose function and ultimately die). This type of research could then help drive more effective treatments for Alzheimer’s and other related diseases.

Alzheimer’s and Neuroinflammation 

Inflammation is the immune system’s natural response to injury, illness, or infection. Neuroinflammation is an inflammatory response that takes place in the brain and spinal cord. This inflammation can be a protective response, but in the case of many brain diseases, it is the result of a faulty autoimmune response that causes damage to the brain and nervous system.

So how is neuroinflammation related to Alzheimer’s? Alzheimer’s disease causes a buildup of plaques and tangles from specific proteins (beta-amyloid and tau) in the brain, which leads to neurodegeneration. Research shows that when these misfolded proteins bind to receptors, they trigger an immune response characterized by inflammation. For people with Alzheimer’s disease, neuroinflammation is not just a side effect of these plaques and tangles. It may actually contribute to the progression of disease.

This connection has sparked further research developments. In a recent study, researchers activated the M-1 receptor, a key brain protein involved in memory and learning, with a modulator compound delivered to the brain through oral doses. This technique reduced neuroinflammation and normalized abnormal neurotransmission, two issues linked to neurodegeneration. This discovery offers the potential to not only treat symptoms of Alzhemier’s disease, such as memory loss, but actually slow its progression and increase lifespan.

The Case for Studying Neuroinflammation 

We know that neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration are connected, so studying neuroinflammation will help us better understand neurodegenerative diseases — not only Alzheimer’s, but also Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body dementia, and others.

It goes even further: There are over 600 known brain diseases, and neuroinflammation plays a role in nearly all of them. Yet researchers still understand very little about how this common immune response contributes to the development of neurologic disorders.

The American Brain Foundation’s 2025 Cure One, Cure Many Award is a new $10 million cross-disciplinary research initiative to better understand neuroinflammation as an underlying mechanism of brain disease and brain health. By bringing together nonprofit organizations, pharmaceutical and biotech investors, philanthropists, and researchers, this large-scale, multi-phased initiative transcends traditional research and philanthropy boundaries. 

Understanding both the protective and detrimental effects of neuroinflammation will allow doctors to more precisely target diseases as varied as Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, MS, encephalitis, and COVID-19-associated brain disease. Together, these diseases affect 60% of the U.S. population and 3.4 billion people worldwide, and they attack the essence of what makes us human: thought, speech, emotion, and movement.

Importance of Research

While there is still so much more to learn, we’ve already seen progress that proves the importance and impact of research. The last decade has seen significant advancements in Alzheimer’s research, especially in the areas of diagnosis, early intervention, and treatment.

For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently granted accelerated approval to the drug lecanemab. Currently being used for people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, lecanemab targets the progression of cognitive decline rather than simply alleviating some symptoms. The FDA has not finished fully evaluating its effectiveness and potential side effects, but doctors can currently prescribe lecanemab and the treatment offers hope for people affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

Looking at Alzheimer’s disease through the lens of neuroinflammation has a lot of potential for larger breakthroughs. We know that neuroinflammation plays a role in so many brain diseases, but we are only just starting to understand how and why. That’s why the Foundation’s 2025 Cure One Cure Many Award is focused on neuroinflammation.

If we better understand neuroinflammation, we may be able to find ways to intervene or reduce its impact on the brain — potentially leading to the prevention or more effective treatment of Alzheimer’s, MS, encephalitis, and hundreds of other neurologic conditions. Because neuroinflammation is such an important factor, we need more research in this area to keep making progress toward life without brain disease.

The American Brain Foundation knows that when we find the cure to one brain disease, we will find cures to many others. Learn more about the brain disease research we fund. Donate today to support the cures and treatments of tomorrow.