Daniela Kaufer and Alon Friedman began working together in 1994, when they were conducting an experiment involving mice. Around that time, soldiers were reported to have developed chronic fatigue, muscle pain, sleep problems, and cognitive deterioration. The phenomenon was titled Gulf War Syndrome. Many doctors agreed that these ailments were caused by the drug pyridostigmine, a shield against chemical weapons. However, their hypothesis had a flaw: the drug shouldn’t have been able to reach the brain. Kaufer and Friedman developed the idea that the brain’s barrier could’ve been damaged by stress, allowing for substances like pyridostigmine to find their way into the brain. This is where the mice come in. The scientists injected blue dye into the mice’s bloodstream and then placed them in cold water to stress them out. If their brains were normal-colored then stress was not the culprit, but if they were blue, the problem would be solved. After multiple trials and various colder water temperatures, the mice displayed strongly tinted brains, concluding that stress could cause leaks in vital brain barriers, allowing for unwanted bacteria and other substances to enter the precious tissue.
While an experiment on mice might not seem like the biggest deal, it opened many doors for scientists to delve deeper into the brain and other neurological disorders. Similar to their results from ’94, Kaufer and Friedman were able to display that as humans age, their brain barriers begin to weaken and allow for leakage. From there, unfamiliar blood proteins enter the brain and begin to cause problems. The proteins act as the catalyst for a chain of events that eventually leads to common neurological effects in the elderly. However, more experiment results display that if these situations are prevented in rodents, the brain shows no signs of illness or aging. By simply giving mice a drug that prevents brain cells from being affected by blood proteins, the brains of elderly mice begin to function more and more like their younger counterparts. While ethics do not allow these same modifications to be performed on humans, screenings show that Alzheimer’s patients display excessive brain leakage when compared to healthy people, just like the mice did.
Although brain leakage cannot be pinpointed as the exact and sole cause of Alzheimer’s, it definitely plays a large role alongside genetics and other cellular issues that go hand-in-hand with age. The discoveries of Kaufer and Friedman and their various experiments with rodents have brought up new and thoughtful questions regarding Alzheimer’s and its treatment. While results in mice are unlikely to behave identically in humans, they offer a jumping-off-point for future research and development in the field of neuroscience.