The latest paper by the scientists, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that Huntington's Disease - one of seven major types of age-related dementia - is directly linked to brain urea levels and metabolic processes.
Their 2016 study revealing that urea is similarly linked to Alzheimer's, shows that the discovery could be relevant to all types of age-related dementias.
The Huntington's study also showed that the high urea levels occurred before dementia sets in, which could help doctors to one day diagnose and even treat dementia, well in advance of its onset.
Urea and ammonia in the brain are metabolic breakdown products of protein. Urea is more commonly known as a compound which is excreted from the body in urine. If urea and ammonia build up in the body because the kidneys are unable to eliminate them, for example, serious symptoms can result.
Senior author said: "This study on Huntington's Disease is the final piece of the jigsaw which leads us to conclude that high brain urea plays a pivotal role in dementia.
"Alzheimer's and Huntington's are at opposite ends of the dementia spectrum - so if this holds true for these types, then I believe it is highly likely it will hold true for all the major age-related dementias.
"More research, however, is needed to discover the source of the elevated urea in HD, particularly concerning the potential involvement of ammonia and a systemic metabolic defect.
"This could have profound implications for our fundamental understanding of the molecular basis of dementia, and its treatability, including the potential use of therapies already in use for disorders with systemic urea phenotypes."
Dementia results in a progressive and irreversible loss of nerve cells and brain functioning, causing loss of memory and cognitive impairments affecting the ability to learn. Currently, there is no cure.
The team used human brains, donated by families for medical research, as well as transgenic sheep in Australia. The team used cutting-edge gas chromatography mass spectrometry to measure brain urea levels. For levels to be toxic urea must rise 4-fold or higher than in the normal brain says the senior author.
"Doctors already use medicines to tackle high levels of ammonia in other parts of the body Lactulose - a commonly used laxative, for example, traps ammonia in the gut. So it is conceivable that one day, a commonly used drug may be able to stop dementia from progressing. It might even be shown that treating this metabolic state in the brain may help in the regeneration of tissue, thus giving a tantalising hint that reversal of dementia may one day be possible."
Elevated levels of urea in dementia!
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