(CBS) – Alzheimer’s disease spreads through the brain like an infection, jumping from one cell to another, according to a new study.

The study found that tau protein, which indicates the fibrous tangles found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, spreads along the brain’s neurons from one region to the other – resulting in severe dementia. The new clues to the neurodegenerative brain disorder might help scientists find a way to stop the disease from getting worse.

For the study – published in the February 1 issue of PLoS One – researchers genetically modified mice to have a human gene for the abnormal tau protein in an area of the brain’s temporal lobe where tau is thought to begin to accumulate. The researchers analyzed the mice brains over a 22-month period to map the protein’s spread and found that as mice aged, the tau spread to different regions of their brains across synapses – the junctions neurons use to communicate with each other.

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