Alzheimer’s marker found in the brain
A new study has linked an area of the brainstem called the locus coeruleus (LC) to several of the main features of early Alzheimer’s disease.
The team of researchers concluded that the health of the LC could be used as an indicator for early Alzheimer’s.
They also suggest that monitoring the changes in this area of the brain could shed light on the possible trajectory of the disease in individual patients.
“Being able to detect and measure the initial site of pathology will be critical to improve early detection and identify individuals eligible for clinical trials aimed at delaying the disease process,” they write.
Affecting more than 44 million people worldwide, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, resulting in memory loss and declining cognitive abilities.
Plaques and tangles
Alzheimer’s disease is characterised by an accumulation of plaques and tangles in the brain.
These two structures are believed to be responsible for damaging and killing nerve cells, which results in the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Protein plaques are deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid, which build up in between nerve cells.
Another protein, called tau, can build up inside cells and its fibres can twist into tangles that are neurotoxic.
Researchers have previously identified the LC as an initial site where tau builds up, but it has been unclear how this relates to the progression of the disease.
This new study has found that a decline in the integrity of the LC is linked to a larger amount of tau tangles, by comparing brain scans of healthy and cognitively impaired individuals.
For those individuals with poorer LC health, the team found they had more severe disease symptoms and a faster decline in memory and executive functions, including poor attention, an inability to manipulate objects, and an inability to selectively concentrate on one sense.
Why this matters
The research could pave the way for improved diagnosis, especially for individuals under 65 who may be diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.
With no current cure for Alzheimer’s, this finding could also assist healthcare professionals monitor the progression of the disease in their patients.
The study was published in Science Translational Medicine.
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