EVAN OTO / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY EVAN OTO / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
An illustration of the pathological features of Alzheimer's disease, a progressive brain disease that is the most common form of dementia. The disease is characterized by the loss of neurons in the brain, leading to the degeneration of the cerebral cortex. Beta-amyloid peptides are proteins that can deposit outside the neuron and begin building up as amyloid plaque throughout the brain. Tau proteins normally hold microtubule subunits in the neuron together, which enables cell-to-cell communication. These tau proteins can destabilize and form neurofibrillary tangles, while the microtubules disintegrate and destroy the neuron. As plaque spreads and tangles accumulate, more neurons are destroyed or inhibited, leading to gradual atrophy of the brain and loss of cognitive function.
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