Researchers hope to use super-resolution microscopy to solve the puzzle of memory formation and discover the causes of dementia. With the use of this advanced microscopy, scientists can observe key molecules at work inside living brain cells.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia is a group of symptoms that affect memory, thinking, and social abilities enough to interfere with one’s social life. It’s not a specific disease, but several diseases are believed to cause dementia. Dementia often includes but isn’t limited to: memory loss, difficulty communicating, confusion and disorientation, anxiety, and depression.
Super-Resolution Microscopy Offers Insight to Undetectable Nanoclusters
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of progressive dementia in aging adults. The Tau protein involved in Alzheimer’s disease affects the organization of the signaling protein Fyn. Fyn plays a key role in memory formation. With the use of super-resolution microscopy, researchers have unprecedented access to view the organization of the proteins involved in previously undetectable nanoclusters.
Scientists found that Tau controls the nanoclustering in dendrites, where communication between brain cells occurs. When Tau mutates, Fyn makes abnormally large clusters. Nerve signals are altered and contribute to dysfunction of synapse-junctions between nerve cells.
The super-resolution microscopy imaging technique helps scientists see how Tau and its clustering control Fyn nanoclustering. A mutant of Tau is found in families with a very high risk of developing frontotemporal dementia. In those scenarios, Fyn was also found over-clustered in the spines of dendrites. This supports the idea that a predisposition for Alzheimer’s can be passed from parent to child.
If a person has an over-clustering of Fyn throughout his or her life, it can lead to an over-signaling problem. Scientists believe that this could be one way that Fyn is toxic to cells. The spines of dendrites are essential to how nerve cells communicate with one another. Their proper function is necessary for memory and learning.
Fyn is linked to both the plaques of amyloid protein that form between brain cells and tangles of Tau protein that form inside brain cells. These have been identified as two distinguishing features of Alzheimer’s disease. Super-resolution microscopy lets scientists observe these features on the molecular level. Further research will be conducted to find out how dementia can be treated when caused by Tau and Fyn interactions.
You may also be interested in reading The Benefits of Confocal Microscopy in Modern Life Science Applications.