Evidence for widespread, severe brain copper deficiency in Alzheimer's dementia

Jingshu Xu, Stephanie Church, Stefano Patassini, Paul Begley, Henry J. Waldvogel, Maurice A. Curtis, Richard L M Faull, Richard Unwin, Garth JS Cooper

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Data-sets comprising simultaneous measurements of many essential metals in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) brain are sparse, and available studies are not entirely in agreement. To further elucidate this matter, we employed inductively-coupled-plasma mass spectrometry to measure post-mortem levels of 8 essential metals and selenium, in 7 brain regions from 9 cases with AD (neuropathological severity Braak IV-VI), and 13 controls who had normal ante-mortem mental function and no evidence of brain disease. Of the regions studied, three undergo severe neuronal damage in AD (hippocampus, entorhinal cortex and middle-temporal gyrus); three are less-severely affected (sensory cortex, motor cortex and cingulate gyrus); and one (cerebellum) is relatively spared. Metal concentrations in the controls differed among brain regions, and AD-associated perturbations in most metals occurred in only a few: regions more severely affected by neurodegeneration generally showed alterations in more metals, and cerebellum displayed a distinctive pattern. By contrast, copper levels were substantively decreased in all AD-brain regions, to 52.8-70.2% of corresponding control values, consistent with pan-cerebral copper deficiency. This copper deficiency could be pathogenic in AD, since levels are lowered to values approximating those in Menkes’ disease, an X-linked recessive disorder where brain-copper deficiency is the accepted cause of severe brain damage. Our study reinforces others reporting deficient brain copper in AD, and indicates that interventions aimed at safely and effectively elevating brain copper could provide a new experimental-therapeutic approach.
Original languageEnglish
Early online date16 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Dementia
  • Neurodegeneration
  • human brain
  • Metal homeostasis
  • brain-copper deficiency
  • brain-zinc levels
  • brain-iron levels
  • Superoxide dismutase 1
  • Cytochrome c oxidase


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