A recent study suggests a potential link between nose-picking and an increased risk of developing dementia. The research, conducted on mice, reveals that when internal nasal tissues are damaged through nose-picking, certain bacteria have an easier pathway to the brain, triggering responses resembling signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
The study, led by scientists from Griffith University in Australia, focused on the bacteria Chlamydia pneumoniae, known to infect humans and cause pneumonia. This bacteria has been found in the brains of individuals affected by late-onset dementia.
In mouse models, it was demonstrated that C. pneumoniae could travel up the olfactory nerve, connecting the nasal cavity and the brain. Amyloid-beta protein is released in response to infections, and its plaques are concentrated in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.
The surprising aspect of the study was the speed at which C. pneumoniae took hold in the central nervous system of mice, with infection occurring within 24 to 72 hours. The researchers suggest that bacteria and viruses may view the nose as a quick route to the brain.
While it’s uncertain if the effects will be the same in humans or if amyloid-beta plaques directly cause Alzheimer’s, the study emphasizes the importance of exploring potential links in the complex understanding of neurodegenerative conditions.
The researchers underscore the need to conduct similar studies in humans to confirm whether the identified pathway operates similarly. Although C. pneumoniae is present in humans, the mechanism of its entry into the brain remains unclear.
Considering that nose-picking is a common behavior, with potential damage to protective nasal tissue, the researchers caution against such habits. They also suggest that additional studies are necessary to determine if increased amyloid-beta protein deposits represent a natural immune response that can reverse when infections are fought off.
As Alzheimer’s is a complex disease influenced by various factors, ongoing research endeavors aim to unveil new insights and potential preventive measures.
The research has been published in Scientific Reports.
A version of this article was first published in November 2022.