MAR 07, 2016 4:57 AM PST

Tracing The Path Of Alzheimer's

The problem with many neurodegenerative diseases is that they are difficult to diagnose and observe when the patient is still living. Alzheimer’s, CTE and other forms of dementia are diagnosed by eliminating other causes, rather than being seen directly. However, new research led by scientists at UC Berkeley shows that PET scans can discover and even track the stages of Alzheimer’s disease in adults who do not yet show cognitive decline. The research also yielded important information about the two key proteins thought to be responsible for the disease, tau and beta-amyloid.
Brain scans showing amyloid and tau deposits
Positron emission tomography or PET scans provided the data for the study which was published March 2nd in the journal Neuron.  While small, the results were still significant. The make up of the participants was as follows: A total of 53 adults participated. Five were aged 20-26 and 33 were aged 64-90. Both of these groups were cognitively health. The other 15 were aged 53-77 and had been diagnosed with probable Alzheimer’s dementia.  
 
PET scans can show the build-up of the protein tau in the brain. A staging process developed in 1991 by German scientist Heiko Braak is the standard by which Alzheimer’s disease can be quantified, but until now, it’s only been possible post-mortem.
 
In a press release from UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, Dr. William Jagust, the study principal investigator and a professor at the Hellen Wills Neuroscience Institute said,  “Braak staging was developed through data obtained from autopsies, but our study is the first to show the staging in people who are not only alive, but who have no signs of cognitive impairment. This opens the door to the use of PET scans as a diagnostic and staging tool.” The Braak staging has six levels, based on the amount of accumulation of tau protein in the brain. The fact that Jagust and his team were able to stage their results according to the Braak scale using PET scans is a first in neuroscience. 
 
The study also provided new information on the interaction of tau as well as beta-amyloid plaques. The conventional wisdom has been that these amyloid deposits were the main cause of Alzheimer’s but more recent research has shown that tau deposits are also a likely factor since it gets tangled in the structure of neurons and impairs the synaptic connections, leading to memory loss and cognitive decline.
 
The team addressed the issue of these two proteins and how they might related since many people have tau or amyloid present in their brain, but some will go on to develop Alzheimer’s and some will not.  Jagust stated, “Amyloid may somehow facilitate the spread of tau, or tau may initiate the deposition of amyloid. We don’t know. We can’t answer that at this point. All I can say is that when amyloid starts to show up, we start to see tau in other parts of the brain, and that is when real problems begin. We think that may be the beginning of symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease.”
 
Funding from the National Institutes of Health helped support this research. Jagust worked with study co-lead authors Michael Schöll, a visiting scholar, and Samuel Lockhart, a postdoctoral fellow, both at UC Berkeley’s Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. Check out the video below to see more about the study and what their findings could mean.
 
 
About the Author
English
I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
JUL 31, 2022
Cannabis Sciences
Researchers draw connection between high-potency cannabis, mental health and addiction issues
JUL 31, 2022
Researchers draw connection between high-potency cannabis, mental health and addiction issues
In a recent study published in Lancet Psychiatry, a team of researchers from the Addiction and Mental Health Group at th ...
AUG 17, 2022
Health & Medicine
Could Chronic Pain by Treated with a Simple Combination of Sound and Electrical Currents?
AUG 17, 2022
Could Chronic Pain by Treated with a Simple Combination of Sound and Electrical Currents?
Chronic pain caused by illness or injury affects millions of people. Arthritis pain alone affects more than 50 million A ...
AUG 15, 2022
Drug Discovery & Development
Electrical Stimulation of Eyes Improves Symptoms of Alzheimer's, Depression
AUG 15, 2022
Electrical Stimulation of Eyes Improves Symptoms of Alzheimer's, Depression
Electrical stimulation of the eye's surface may alleviate depression-like symptoms and improve cognitive function in ...
AUG 17, 2022
Health & Medicine
Stress & Cognitive Function: Friend or Foe?
AUG 17, 2022
Stress & Cognitive Function: Friend or Foe?
Stress is inevitable, at times overwhelming, and when in the thick of it, it can feel insurmountable. However, sometimes ...
AUG 17, 2022
Neuroscience
The Research Value of Patient Medical Records and Samples
AUG 17, 2022
The Research Value of Patient Medical Records and Samples
A majority of patients want notification about the potential uses of their medical records or samples according to a stu ...
SEP 24, 2022
Health & Medicine
The Healing Power of Nature on the Brain
SEP 24, 2022
The Healing Power of Nature on the Brain
There is a convenience that comes from living in the city, for being close to the action, but there is also a risk to th ...
Loading Comments...