Cookie policy: This site uses cookies (small files stored on your computer) to simplify and improve your experience of this website. Cookies are small text files stored on the device you are using to access this website. For more information please take a look at our terms and conditions. Some parts of the site may not work properly if you choose not to accept cookies.


Subscribe or Register

Existing user? Login


Neurological disorders

Brains of CJD victims show signs of Alzheimer’s pathology

Neuroscientists dismiss fears raised by Nature study that brain disease could be transmissible.

Victims of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD) show evidence of Alzheimer’s pathology, suggests new research. In the image, micrograph of a brain with CJD

Source: DRdoubleB / Wikimedia Commons

The brains of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease victims were examined at autopsy and showed evidence of Alzheimer’s pathology

The brains of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD) victims show evidence of Alzheimer’s pathology, new research suggests. But neuroscientists have dismissed concerns that people can “catch” Alzheimer’s by becoming infected with the “seeds” of the condition through surgery involving contaminated instruments or blood transfusions.

A study published in Nature[1] on 9 September 2015 reported autopsy results from the brains of eight people aged 36–51 years who died of CJD after receiving contaminated growth hormone injections. In four subjects, there was evidence of moderate to severe amyloid-β pathology; amyloid-β is one of the abnormal proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

None of the patients carried genes known to be associated with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and none had exhibited symptoms of the condition. The researchers also analysed pituitary glands from the individuals with amyloid-β brain pathology and found marked amyloid-β deposition in multiple cases.

Around 450 people around the world have died from CJD after receiving treatment, usually in childhood, with growth hormone harvested from the pituitary glands of human cadavers contaminated with prions – a treatment which ceased in 1985 after the risks of CJD became known.

The researchers behind the Nature paper say their findings suggest that, in addition to CJD, healthy exposed individuals may also be at risk of iatrogenic Alzheimer’s disease. They cite another study, published in Brain[2] on 12 August 2015, as evidence that prion disease itself does not appear to predispose an individual to Alzheimer’s disease. The Brain study showed minimal or no amyloid-β pathology at autopsy in 116 patients with other prion diseases, who were of a similar age or a decade older and did not carry the APOE ε4 allele.

But several neuroscientists have questioned the researchers’ conclusion.

Masud Husain, professor of neurology and cognitive sciences at the University of Oxford, says the results do not provide sufficient evidence to support the concept of Alzheimer’s disease being a transmissible illness. “The authors argue that the prion (CJD) pathology and the amyloid (Alzheimer) pathology are effectively independent,” he says. “Stronger evidence would be required to accept such a proposal.”

David Allsop, professor of neuroscience at the University of Lancaster, says the conclusion is an extrapolation: “What the paper shows is that some people treated with human growth hormone who subsequently went on to develop CJD also show evidence of β amyloid deposits, a key feature of Alzheimer’s disease, in their pituitary glands. What the paper does not demonstrate is whether these people would have gone on to develop Alzheimer’s disease had they lived long enough or that their pituitary β amyloid deposits were caused by contamination of growth hormone with a ‘rogue’ form of β amyloid.”

Allsop suggests that a likely explanation is that deposition of the ‘prion protein’ in CJD can result, in some cases, in the co-accumulation of β amyloid.

“It is very well known from other studies that one type of rogue protein — in this case the prion protein — can predispose to accumulation of another [in this case β amyloid],” he says. “There is no evidence that Alzheimer’s disease can be transmitted from one person to another, or through use of contaminated surgical instruments, and these results should be interpreted with a great deal of caution.”

This reassurance has been echoed by chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, who says there is no evidence that Alzheimer’s disease can be transmitted in humans or through any medical procedure.

“I can reassure people that the NHS has extremely stringent procedures in place to minimise infection risk from surgical equipment, and patients are very well protected.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2015.20069354

Readers' comments (1)

  • When in doubt, do your own reading and research about the transmissibility of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. CJD is infectious. Parkinson's is infectious. Alzheimer's is infectious. The coverup also is contagious.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

For commenting, please login or register as a user and agree to our Community Guidelines. You will be re-directed back to this page where you will have the ability to comment.

Recommended from Pharmaceutical Press

  • Introduction to Renal Therapeutics

    Introduction to Renal Therapeutics

    Introduction to Renal Therapeutics covers all aspects of drug use in renal failure. Shows the role of the pharmacist in patient care for chronic kidney disease.

    £38.00Buy now
  • Pathology and Therapeutics for Pharmacists

    Pathology and Therapeutics for Pharmacists

    An practical, integrated approach to the pathophysiological and pharmacotherapeutic principles underlying the treatment of disease.

    £54.00Buy now
  • Drugs and the Liver

    Drugs and the Liver

    Drugs and the Liver assists practitioners in making pragmatic choices for their patients. It enables you to assess liver function and covers the principles of drug use in liver disease.

    £38.00Buy now
  • Lecture Notes in Pharmacy Practice

    Lecture Notes in Pharmacy Practice

    A comprehensive study guide which summarises the basic principles in pharmacy practice. Clear, bulleted information for quick reference.

    £43.00Buy now
  • MCQs in Pharmacy Practice

    MCQs in Pharmacy Practice

    A study aid with 800 MCQs. Assess your knowledge, analytical skills, and ability to apply this knowledge base in clinical practice.

    £25.00Buy now
  • Print
  • Share
  • Comment
  • Save
  • Print Friendly Version of this pagePrint Get a PDF version of this webpagePDF

Supplementary images

  • Victims of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD) show evidence of Alzheimer’s pathology, suggests new research. In the image, micrograph of a brain with CJD

Newsletter Sign-up

Want to keep up with the latest news, comment and CPD articles in pharmacy and science? Subscribe to our free alerts.