Alzheimer’s Brain Barrier Damage Theory Could Pave Way for New Treatments

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Alzheimer’s Disease could be caused by damage to a protective barrier in the body that allows fatty substances to build up in the brain, newly published research argues.

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Summary: Lipids entering the brain as a result of damage to the blood-brain barrier may be a determining cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers say simple lifestyle changes could reduce Alzheimer’s risks by reducing the impact on the BBB and decreasing Alzheimer’s associated brain damage.

Alzheimer’s Disease could be caused by damage to a protective barrier in the body that allows fatty substances to build up in the brain, newly published research argues.

A new explanation called the ‘Lipid Invasion Model’, argues that lipids entering the brain due to damage to the blood brain barrier – a dense system of small blood vessels in the brain that allow only a small number of essential substances to pass through – is the determining cause of the degenerative disease that affects millions worldwide.

The hypothesis is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Reports and could open up new diagnosis or treatment possibilities. The theory also supports the idea that certain lifestyle changes could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease by reducing the impact on the blood brain barrier and the resulting damage to the brain seen in people with Alzheimer’s.

The new study brings together previous research to present the fresh explanation of the disease’s cause.  It follows 10 years of research and suggests that risk factors commonly associated with Alzheimer’s Disease are the same factors that damage the blood brain barrier – old age, head injury, hypertension, smoking, obesity, diabetes, chronic sleep deprivation and stress.

It suggests that this is the reason footballers and boxers are particularly at risk, and why the disease affects largely older people, because in both cases the blood brain barrier has been damaged or worn away.

There are two types of Alzheimer’s – the comparatively rare, inherited, early-onset form and the non-inherited, late-onset form, associated with ageing. This latter form is becoming more and more common as people live longer but the current explanation known as the amyloid hypothesis relates more to the rarer inherited form.

This explanation states that the disease is caused by excess levels of a protein called beta-amyloid.  The Lipid Invasion Model supports this up to a point but argues that, in the late-onset form, beta-amyloid is just one of a number of factors that damage the blood brain barrier, allowing external lipids in.

The Lipid Invasion Model opens up new pathways for research into the detection, prevention and treatment of the disease. It could have parallels in other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Motor Neurone Disease, which also disproportionately affect older people and people engaged in certain sports, and might also be associated with damage to the blood brain barrier.


Alois Alzheimer (1864-1915) was the German psychiatrist and neuropathologist credited with identifying the first published case of ’presenile dementia’, later identified as Alzheimer’s disease. His was the first description of the strange behavioural symptoms (poor short-term memory, sleep disturbance and paranoia) and brain pathology (brain shrinkage and the presence of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles) commonly associated with the disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia affecting 24 million people, mostly in the western world. There is now a one in three chance that we will get it in old age.


Written by Peter Bryant, University of Reading, this article was shared April 8, 2022 in Neuroscience News.

Original Research: Open access.
A New Hypothesis for Alzheimer’s Disease: The Lipid Invasion Model” by Jonathan Rudge et al. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Reports