Could Alzheimer's be a 'dirty brain disease'?

older woman

The brain’s “garbage trucks” may lead to new clues about how to treat neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers are now pointing to a newly discovered system by which the brain removes waste as a potentially powerful tool to treat degenerative diseases of the brain. Furthermore, there is some indication that neurological disorders could result as a product of this system not operating properly.

Cellular waste needs to be removed from the body, including the brain

“Essentially all neurodegenerative diseases are associated with the accumulation of cellular waste products,” explained Maiken Nedergaard, MD, DMSc, co-director of the URMC Center for Translational Neuromedicine and author of the perspective piece.

The body defends the brain with a complex system of gateways that control which molecules can enter and exit. The blood-brain barriers are only now being understood. In fact, the system, now called the glymphatic system, was only first disclosed last August. In the rest of the body, the lymphatic system removes waste. But that system does not go into the brain. It is the glymphatic system that takes over there.

The glymphatic system has long eluded scientists because it cannot be found in brain tissue samples. Only through new imaging technology have scientists been able to document the extensive system responsible for flushing waste from throughout the brain.

Alzheimer’s is accumulated waste in the brain

One of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s is the accumulation of beta amyloid in the brain. Over time they amass and become like plaque on the brain. Understanding the role of the glymphatic system and its inability to remove these excesses could be key to understanding and treating the disease.

“The idea that ‘dirty brain’ diseases like Alzheimer may result from a slowing down of the glymphatic system as we age is a completely new way to think about neurological disorders,” noted Nedergaard. “It also presents us with a new set of targets to potentially increase the efficiency of glymphatic clearance and, ultimately, change the course of these conditions.”

Source: University of Rochester Medical Center, MedicalNewsToday

ocd self test
Do you or a loved one feel like you might have a problem with OCD? Take the Self Test now to get more information.

The information provided on is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her health professional. This information is solely for informational and educational purposes. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Neither the owners or employees of nor the author(s) of site content take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading this site. Always speak with your primary health care provider before engaging in any form of self treatment. Click here to read our complete Terms of Use.

Sign up for our newsletter to receive mental health information & inspiration

Subscribe to our mailing list Social