Flickers and buzzes sweep mouse brains of Alzheimer’s plaques

amyloid-beta plaques
DISAPPERING ACT Precisely timed lights and sounds reduced amyloid-beta plaques in a mouse brain (left) compared with the brain of a mouse that didn’t receive the treatment (right).

Fast clicking sounds can boost brainpower in mice with signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Like flickering lights, these external sounds spur a type of brain wave that seemed to sweep disease-related plaques from mice’s brains, researchers report in the March 14 Cell.

It’s too early to say whether the same sorts of flickers and clicks could help people with Alzheimer’s. If so, the treatment would represent a fundamentally new way to target the neurodegenerative disease — with lights and sounds instead of drugs.

An earlier study of mice, by neuroscientist Li-Huei Tsai of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory and colleagues, focused on the eyes. Lights that flickered exactly 40 times a second (a “twinkling” effect, Tsai says) kicked off gamma waves, a type of brain wave thought to happen during concentration. In mice, these brain waves somehow reduced amyloid-beta, the protein that piles up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s (SN: 1/21/17, p. 13). But in that study, A-beta was reduced only in the part of the brain that handles vision — an area not thought to be key to Alzheimer’s progression.

Sounds that hum at a rate of 40 clicks per second, or 40 hertz, do the same trick of spurring gamma…

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