An encouraging research study: Researchers have found that when we sleep our brain cells shrink and an enzyme is produced that acts like Draino on cellular waste, including protein deposits associated with Alzheimer’s disease.  And researchers at Stanford University have discovered that blocking a single protein called EP2, which stopped the process, reversed memory loss and myriad other Alzheimer’s-like features in mice.

Dr Nedergaard and her team at the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, found that during sleep a plumbing system called the glymphatic system may open, letting fluid flow rapidly through the brain. The glymphatic system helps control the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a clear liquid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.  The team found that injected amyloid protein disappeared faster in mice brains when the mice were asleep, suggesting sleep normally clears toxic molecules from the brain.’

“What we described is that this microscopic cleansing system turns on as soon as we fall asleep and washes the brain clean,” Nedergaard said. “From our standpoint, when you’re sleep deprived, you get a dirty brain.’ [i]brain

Another, unrelated study from researchers at Stanford University, California, found that that nerve cells die because cells which are supposed to clear the brain of bacteria, viruses and dangerous deposits, stop working.

‘These cells, called ‘microglia’ function well when people are young, but when they age, a single protein called EP2 stops them operating efficiently.

‘Now scientists have shown that blocking the protein allows the microglia to function normally again so they can hoover up the dangerous sticky amyloid-beta plaques which damage nerve cells in Alzheimer’s disease.  The researchers found that, in mice, blocking EP2 with a drug reversed memory loss and myriad other Alzheimer’s-like features in the animals.

[i] Xie et al “Sleep initiated fluid flux drives metabolite clearance from the adult brain.” Science, October 18, 2013. DOI: 10.1126/science.1241224:  also at

. [i] Read more here


Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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