Preventing inflammation in the brain could protect against memory loss and behaviour changes caused by Alzheimer's disease, according to new research.
The study led by the University of Southampton has found that blocking a receptor in the brain, known as CSF1R, responsible for regulating immune cells can help prevent the progression of the disease.
A spokesman for the university said: "It was originally thought that Alzheimer's disease disturbs the brain's immune response, but this latest study adds to evidence that inflammation in the brain can in fact drive the development of the disease.
"The findings suggest that by reducing this inflammation, progression of the disease could be halted.
"The team hope the discovery will lead to an effective new treatment for the disease, for which there is currently no cure."
The scientists used tissue samples from healthy brains and those with Alzheimer's and counted the numbers of a particular type of immune cell, known as microglia, in the samples. They found that these were more numerous in the brains with Alzheimer's disease.
The researchers then studied the immune cells in mice and found that by using an inhibitor to block the rise in microglia numbers prevented the loss of communication points between nerve cells in the brain associated with Alzheimer's.
They found this led to the treated mice showing fewer memory and behavioural problems compared with untreated mice.
Dr Diego Gomez-Nicola said: "These findings are as close to evidence as we can get to show that this particular pathway is active in the development of Alzheimer's disease.
"The next step is to work closely with our partners in industry to find a safe and suitable drug that can be tested to see if it works in humans."
The research, published in the journal Brain, was jointly funded by the MRC (Medical Research Council) and Alzheimer's Research UK.
Dr Simon Ridley, director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "This work, looking at the role of the immune system in Alzheimer's disease, suggests that blocking the action of the CSF1R protein in mice could help limit the damaging effects of inflammation and protect against symptoms like memory loss.
"In the last few years, scientists in Southampton have been at the forefront of research into the role of the immune system in Alzheimer's, so it is encouraging to see this study taking these ideas forward by identifying a specific mechanism that could be a target for future treatments."