Syrian hamsters are golden-haired rodents often kept as house pets. Cold and darkness can cause the animals to hibernate for 3-4 days at a time, interspersed with short periods of activity. Surprisingly, the hibernation spurts of these cute, furry creatures could hold clues to better treatments for Alzheimer’s disease (AD), according to a recent study in ACS’ Journal of Proteome Research.
When hamsters and other small mammals hibernate, their brains undergo structural and metabolic changes to help neurons survive low temperatures. A key event in this process appears to be the phosphorylation of a protein called tau, which has been implicated in AD. In the brains of hibernating animals, phosphorylated tau can form tangled structures similar to those seen in AD patients. However, the structures disappear and tau phosphorylation is rapidly and fully reversed when the hibernating animal wakes up. Coral Barbas and colleagues wondered if determining how hibernating hamsters’ brains clear out the tangled proteins could suggest new therapies for AD.
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