Alzheimer’s disease “ground zero” brain region – the locus coeruleus – has been identified. The locus coeruleus has been found to play an important role in maintaining cognitive function later on in life. It is a small, bluish part of the brainstem that releases a neurotransmitter responsible for heart rate, attention, memory, and cognition.
Researchers explained that the locus coeruleus is the first brain region to show tau pathology – the slow-spreading protein tangles sees early on in Alzheimer’s disease. The neurotransmitters released by the locus coeruleus may be crucial in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.
Studies on mice and rats revealed that norepinephrine – the neurotransmitter released by the locus coeruleus – may help protect neurons from factors that kill cells and speed up Alzheimer’s disease.
Norepinephrine becomes released when a person is engaged in mentally stimulating activities, like problem-solving or completing a puzzle. Lead author Mara Mather said, “Education and engaging careers produce late-life ‘cognitive reserve,’ or effective brain performance, despite encroaching pathology. Activation of the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine system by novelty and mental challenge throughout one’s life may contribute to cognitive reserve.”
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