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What Post-Acute Leaders Need to Know About Female Alzheimer's Patients and an Emerging Solution

Analysis  |  By Jasmyne Ray  
   October 13, 2022

New research explains why women are more likely to develop Alzheimer's.

Research has identified the reason women seem to be more vulnerable to Alzheimer's disease, which may help in developing new treatments for the disease.

A group of Case Western Reserve University researchers found that female brain tissue that reflects a higher expression of a specific enzyme, USP11, causes it to accumulate more of the tau protein, compared to that of male brain tissue. The tau protein can build into toxic protein clumps in brain nerve cells.

"When a particular tau protein is no longer needed for its nerve cell's function, it is normally designated for destruction and clearance," David Kang, co-senior author of the study said in a statement. "Sometimes this clearance process is disrupted, which causes tau to pathologically aggregate inside nerve cells. This leads to nerve cell destruction in conditions called tauopathies, the most well-known of which is Alzheimer's disease."

It's known that women are afflicted by Alzheimer's disease around twice as often as men. The university's findings showed that women express higher levels of USP11 naturally, and that women have a higher tau deposition in their brains, but it's still unknown why the increased vulnerability exists.

Kang added that the study's findings could help identify other factors that contribute to tauopathy in women. It also offers a starting point for the development of new neuroprotective medicines.

"We reasoned that if this could be identified, then it could provide a basis for the development of new medicine that could restore the proper balance of tau levels in the brain," he said.

The research also revealed a potential protective measure for women. In a mouse model, once the USP11 enzyme was genetically eliminated, female mice were more likely to be protected from tau pathology and cognitive impairment than male mice.

However, tau pathology in animal models may not reflect the way it functions in humans.

"In terms of implications, the good news is that USP11 is an enzyme, and enzymes can traditionally be inhibited pharmacologically," Kang said. "Our hope is to develop a medicine that works in this way, in order to protect women from the higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease."

“Our hope is to develop a medicine that works in this way, in order to protect women from the higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.”

Jasmyne Ray is the revenue cycle editor at HealthLeaders. 


The female brain was found to express a higher quantity of the USP11 enzyme, compared to the male brain.

The enzyme can cause the tau protein to accumulate in the brain in toxic protein clumps.

The findings offer a starting point for the development of new medicines to protect women from higher risks of developing Alzheimer's.

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