Flickering lights may improve Alzheimer's symptoms

Published: by Interim HealthCare

Could flashing lights help reduce the effects of Alzheimer's? That's what researchers at MIT are asking after discovering that they're able to reduce plaque buildup in the brains of mice using nothing but LED lights. While the symptoms of Alzheimer's can vary from person to person, one of the standard characteristics of the disease is it's usually accompanied by beta amyloid plaque buildup in the brain. That plaque is believed to prevent brain cells from functioning properly. By clearing plaque, or preventing additional plaque from building up, researchers posit they may be able to slow down or reduce the symptoms of this disease.

"Our MIT scientists have opened the door to an entirely new direction of research on this brain disorder and the mechanisms that may cause or prevent it," said Michael Sipser, Dean of MIT's School of Science.

Gamma oscillations

In addition to beta amyloid plaque, patients with Alzheimer's have been shown to have issues with gamma oscillations in their brain. This type of brain wave is thought to benefit functions like memory and is categorized as a brain wave that spans from 25-80 hertz, or cycles per second. Improved gamma oscillations are thought to decrease the production of beta amyloid proteins, which can build up as plaque, and also help clear out existing protein buildup.

Gamma oscillations are also thought to improve synchronicity in the brain allowing everything to work together seamlessly, pointed out

Like humans, mice display impaired gamma oscillations when using the part of their brains that require memory formation and recall.

The researchers then attempted a modified version of the experiment during which they used LED lights to provide external stimulation. After turning on a strip of lights flickering at 40 hertz (which is just barely perceptible to humans), the mice experienced a similar drop in beta amyloid proteins.The experiment

Researchers hypothesized they could stimulate gamma oscillations in the part of the brain responsible for memory, which would improve brain functionality. To test the theory, they shined a light flickering at 40 hertz directly on neurons in the mices' brains. Just an hour of stimulation provided a 40-50 percent reduction in beta amyloid proteins.

However, because the stimulation was provided visually, the effect only appeared in the part of the brain responsible for visual perception, and the only lasted 24 hours. By increasing the frequency and duration of light exposure, researchers were able to extend the period of time that showed decreased beta amyloid proteins.

Human application

While light therapy is still in testing and isn't formally approved for home care for Alzheimer's patients, there are several companies that are already selling lights that operate a 40 hertz frequency. Additional research is underway to find out just how effective this treatment will be for humans.

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