New research being done at MIT may help explain the behaviour of some cells around the hippocampus, the area of the brain where it's believed memories are formed.
With dementia, it was previously known some neurons in the brain suddenly start to replicate their DNA, which causes them to die, an occurrence no one could readily explain.
Now, lead researcher Li-Huei Tsai claims to have a clue about the events that precede the death of the cells in the brain, MIT News reports.
Tsai found these events occurred when an enzyme called HDAC1 was blocked.
The researcher also found that by increasing the levels of the enzyme, neurons were protected from dying, according to the article.
"Our findings provide insight into how neurons die in neurodegenerative diseases and offer a new therapeutic strategy for countering neuronal death," said Tsai.
Tsai's work was published today in the December 11th issue of Neuron.
So far the theory of increasing HDAC1 levels to protect neurons has been successful in mice. If proven, Tsai's discovery could open doors to new treatments for dementia.
There are approximately 700,000 people diagnosed with dementia in the UK.