Copper is ubiquitous in the food supply and drinking water. In the right amounts, it helps the body perform many important functions. However, a new study points to the metal’s darker side: too much copper can accumulate in the brain and contribute to the buildup of toxic proteins that cause Alzheimer’s disease.
The study, which appears today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, details copper’s role in the disease. Led by Rashid Deane, Ph.D., a member of the URMC Center for Translational Neuromedicine, the authors found that when mice were exposed to low levels of copper in their drinking water an amount equivalent to a fraction of EPA safety guidelines the metal accumulated in the vessels that supply the brain with blood. The metal then impeded the function of a protein called lipoprotein receptor-related protein 1 (LRP1), one of the molecular “gatekeepers” that comprise the blood brain barrier, whose function is to bind with amyloid beta and escort it from the brain. Amyloid beta is a by-product of normal cellular activity but can have a toxic effect if it accumulates in the brain.
The researchers found that not only did copper contribute to the breakdown of the blood brain barrier, but that once the brain’s defense system was breached, the copper entered the brain tissue directly and stimulated the production of more amyloid beta and interacted with the protein in a manner that caused it to accumulate in dense masses that the brain was unable to clear.
You can read more about the study here.