• Inflammation in the brain is linked to several forms of dementia, a study has found.
  • Researchers studied patients with frontotemporal dementias, which result from the build-up of 'junk' proteins in the brain.
  • The more inflammation in a part of the brain, the more of the junk proteins are found there.

Inflammation in the brain may be more widely linked to several forms of dementia than previously thought, a new study suggests.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge say their findings offer hope for potential new treatments for several types of the condition.

Inflammation – such as redness and swelling – is usually the body’s response to injury and stress. However, inflammation in the brain – known as neuroinflammation – has been recognised and linked to many disorders including depression, psychosis and multiple sclerosis. Recently it has also been linked to the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

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In a study published in the journal Brain, scientists looked at whether neuroinflammation also occurs in other forms of dementia. They say this would imply that it is common to many neurodegenerative diseases.

The team recruited 31 patients with three different types of frontotemporal dementia (FTD). FTD is a family of different conditions resulting from the build-up of several abnormal “junk” proteins in the brain. The participants underwent brain scans to detect inflammation and the junk proteins.

According to the study, across the brain, and in all three types of FTD, the more inflammation in each part of the brain, the more harmful build-up of the junk proteins there is.

Dr Thomas Cope from the department of clinical neurosciences at Cambridge, said: “We predicted the link between inflammation in the brain and the build-up of damaging proteins, but even we were surprised by how tightly these two problems mapped on to each other.”

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Professor James Rowe from the Cambridge Centre for Frontotemporal Dementia, added: “It is an important discovery that all three types of frontotemporal dementia have inflammation, linked to the build-up of harmful abnormal proteins in different parts of the brain. The illnesses are in other ways very different from each other, but we have found a role for inflammation in all of them.

“This, together with the fact that it is known to play a role in Alzheimer’s, suggests that inflammation is part of many other neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease. This offers hope that immune-based treatments might help slow or prevent these conditions.”


The scientists say further research is needed to translate this knowledge of inflammation in dementia into testable treatments.

What is dementia?

Some 850,000 people are estimated to be living with dementia in the UK, and that’s expected to rise to two million by 2050. Most of us probably know, or have known, someone with dementia. But we may not understand the difference between dementia and, say, Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia describes the symptoms that someone experiences as a result of a brain disease. Such symptoms can include memory loss, mood and behavioural changes, and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving and language.

More than 100 diseases can cause dementia, each with slightly different symptoms. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s.


Sara RigbyOnline staff writer, BBC Science Focus

Sara is the online staff writer at BBC Science Focus. She has an MPhys in mathematical physics and loves all things space, dinosaurs and dogs.