Long-term use of benzodiazepines, commonly prescribed for anxiety and insomnia, may impair cognition and increase the risk of developing dementia. How? By activating microglia to prune synapses, according to researchers led by Jochen Herms and Mario Dorostkar at Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich. In the February 28 Nature Neuroscience, they reported that diazepam, aka Valium, upregulated the mitochondrial receptor TSPO in microglia, triggering overzealous trimming of dendritic spines. Mice fed high doses of diazepam lost spines more quickly and had poorer memories than animals given low doses. Overall, this could explain the link between benzodiazepines and dementia.
- Diazepam binds the mitochondrial translocator protein in microglia.
- The glia ramped up synaptic pruning.
- Given diazepam, mice did worse on learning tasks.
“This thorough study adds to a growing body of evidence that microglia are critical enactors of synaptic form and function,” Kim Green, University of California, Irvine, wrote to Alzforum.
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