Public Release:  Anesthesia or hypothermia: Warning for Alzheimer's patients

Notice to health-care professionals: New research published online in the FASEB Journal shows that slight dips in brain temperature causes build-up of abnormal tau protein

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

Everyone knows that its important to keep a cool head, but a new study published online in The FASEB Journal (http://www.fasebj.org) shows that for Alzheimer's patients, a cool head may make the disease worse. In the research report, scientists show that a protein associated with Alzheimer's (called "tau") builds up in brain cells at an increased rate when temperatures fall, such as when a patient is anesthetized or experiences hypothermia. This finding should be of immediate concern to surgeons, dentists, and any other health care professionals who anesthetize patients with Alzheimer's or patients at an elevated risk for the disease.

"We hope that this research will initiate an interest in taking precautions to limit the impact of anesthesia on the disease," said Emmanuel Planel of Columbia University Medical Center and one of the scientists involved in the work.

To make this discovery, the scientists used two groups of mice that make the abnormal tau protein that accumulates in Alzheimer's patients. One group was anesthetized, and one group was not. A week after anesthesia, the two groups were compared for the amount of tau protein clumps in their brain cells. The anesthetized group had more of these clumps than the group that was not anesthetized. Furthermore, in mice showing advanced signs of the disease, the build up of tau proteins occurred faster than in those in the early stages.

"Every patient wants a surgeon with a cool head," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal, "but surgeons might not want the same for their patients. People are anesthetized for all kinds of reasons, even dental work, but this study really should make patients and doctors reconsider whether it's really necessary."

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Report Details: Emmanuel Planel, Alexis Bretteville, Li Liu, Laszlo Virag, Angela L. Du, Wai Haung Yu, Dennis W. Dickson, Robert A. Whittington, and Karen E. Duff. Acceleration and persistence of neurofibrillary pathology in a mouse model of tauopathy following anesthesia FASEB J. doi:10.1096/fj.08-122424. http://www.fasebj.org/cgi/content/abstract/fj.08-122424v1

Subscribe to The FASEB Journal's mailing list to receive monthly article summaries right in your inbox by signing up at http://www.faseb.org/fasebjournalreaders.htm. The FASEB Journal (http://www.fasebj.org) is published by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) and is the most cited journal worldwide according to the Institute for Scientific Information. FASEB comprises 22 nonprofit societies with more than 80,000 members, making it the largest coalition of biomedical research associations in the United States. FASEB advances biological science through collaborative advocacy for research policies that promote scientific progress and education and lead to improvements in human health.

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