Mouse Study Suggests a Surprising Link Between Nose-Picking And Alzheimer’s : ScienceAlert

A new study has revealed a weak but plausible link between nose picking and the risk of developing dementia.

In cases where nose picking damages internal tissue, critical types of bacteria have a clearer path to the brain, which reacts to their presence in ways that resemble signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

There are many caveats here, not least that so far the supporting research is based on mice rather than humans, but the results are definitely worth further study – and could improve our understanding of how Alzheimer’s begins, which remains something of a mystery.

A team of researchers led by scientists from Griffith University in Australia conducted tests with a bacterium Chlamydia pneumoniae, which can infect humans and cause pneumonia. The bacteria have also been discovered in the majority of human brains affected by late-onset dementia.

It has been shown that in mice the bacteria can travel to the olfactory nerve (into the nasal cavity and the brain). What’s more, when there was damage to the nasal epithelium (the thin tissue along the roof of the nasal cavity), the nerve infections got worse.

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This caused the mouse brains to deposit more of the amyloid-beta protein – a protein released in response to infections. Plaques (or clumps) of this protein are also found in significant concentrations in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

“We are the first to show that Chlamydia pneumoniae can go directly to the nose and the brain, where it can trigger pathologies that look like Alzheimer’s disease,” says neuroscientist James St John of Griffith University in Australia.

“We’ve seen this happen in a mouse model, and the evidence is potentially frightening for humans as well.”

The scientists were surprised at the speed with which C. pneumoniae took hold in the central nervous system of mice, with infection occurring within 24 to 72 hours. It is believed that bacteria and viruses see the nose as a fast way to the brain.

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Although it is not certain that the effects are the same in humans, or even that amyloid-beta plaques are a cause of Alzheimer’s, it is nevertheless important to follow promising leads in the fight to understand this common neurodegenerative condition.

“We need to do this study in humans and confirm whether the same pathway works in the same way,” says St John.

“It’s research that has been proposed by many people but has not yet been completed. What we know is that the same bacteria are present in humans, but we haven’t figured out how they get there.”

Nose picking is not exactly a rare thing. In fact, it’s possible for as many as 9 out of 10 people to do it… not to mention a bunch of other species (some a little more adept than others). Although the benefits are not clear, studies like this one should give us pause before choosing.

Future studies on the same processes in humans are planned – but until then, St John and his colleagues suggest that nose picking and nose hair plucking are “not a good idea” because of the potential damage it does to protective tissue.

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An outstanding question the team seeks to answer is whether the increased amyloid-beta protein deposits are a natural, healthy immune response that can be reversed when the infection is fought.

Alzheimer’s is an incredibly complicated disease, as is clear from the large number of studies and the many different angles that scientists are trying to understand it – but each piece of research brings us a little closer to finding a way to stop

“Once you’re over 65, your risk factor goes up immediately, but we’re also looking at other causes, because it’s not just age – it’s also environmental exposure,” says St John.

“And we think bacteria and viruses are critical.”

The research was published in Scientific reports.


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