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Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease

Explore how scientists use their knowledge of transcription, immunolabeling, and bioethics to understand Alzheimer’s disease pathology.  

Graphic depicting tau tangles by Maddy Meuler/Allen Institute
An example of a figure included in lesson 4 to help students understand tau tangles as a biological hallmark of Alzheimer’s Disease. Sketch by Maddy Meuler/Allen Institute

About this resource:

This collection of four lesson plans walks students through how scientists work with donated brain tissue to study how the healthy human brain differs from a brain with Alzheimer’s neuropathology. Throughout these lessons, students are asked to consider both the social and biological contexts of Alzheimer’s disease while looking at data from single brain cells about which genes they are or are not expressing relative to their cellular neighbors in the brain. Students are also guided through an interactive image dataset of immunolabeled brain tissue, allowing students to compare the presence and/or absence of biological hallmarks thought to be associated with Alzheimer’s disease pathology.

Audience: introductory to intermediate college-level cell science and/or neuroscience students, or advanced high school students

Mode of instruction: suitable for remote, hybrid, or in-person instruction


Lesson Materials:

Note: Each lesson features an instructor guide and a student worksheet.

hand drawn sketch of a human brain with text that says "would you donate your brain to science?" by Maddy Meuler/ Allen Institute

Lesson 1: Brain Donation and Bioethics

    • In this lesson, students are asked to explore the field of bioethics in order to understand the importance of consent within biomedical research.

Lesson 2: The Importance of Basic Research in Brain Science

    • In this lesson, students are challenged to use their knowledge of transcription to explore gene expression between different types of cells within the healthy human brain.

Lesson 3: Societal and Biological Perspectives on Alzheimer’s Disease

    • In this lesson, students are guided through an exploration of real immunolabeled neuropathology images from donors with and without dementia in order to look for the presence and/or absence of neurofibrillary tangles.

Lesson 4: Analyzing Transcriptomic Data to Explore Alzheimer’s Disease Pathology

    • In this lesson, students analyze transcriptomic data to search for possible biological markers of Alzheimer’s disease.




Data used in this unit:

heatmap data image from the Allen Brain Map on RNASeq data from multiple human cortical areas

Allen Cell Types Database

Transcriptomics Explorer
Sections of a healthy human brain (left) and a brain from a patient with Alzheimer’s disease (right).

SEA-AD Alzheimer's Disease

neuropathology and cellxgene

Science Programs at Allen Institute