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
  • 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
MAY 02, 2020
Immunology
MAY 02, 2020
Cellular "Cleaning Crews" Get Busy During Spinal Cord Injury
  Nerve cells transmit and receive information traversing the human body in the form of electrical impulses. These ...
MAY 22, 2020
Neuroscience
MAY 22, 2020
Diesel Fumes Increase Risk for Developing Parkinson's
Around 10 million people worldwide have Parkinson's disease, a progressive nervous system disorder that affects move ...
MAY 13, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
MAY 13, 2020
Drug Targets Off Episodes of Parkinson
A novel drug was approved by the FDA to target the “off” episodes of Parkinson disease. The drug is referred ...
MAY 26, 2020
Neuroscience
MAY 26, 2020
Imitating Babies Allows Bonds to Form Quickly
Researchers from Lund University in Sweden have found that 6-month old babies know when an adult imitates them- and that ...
JUN 20, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
JUN 20, 2020
Prolonged Cannabis Use May Prevent Migraines
Between 1% and 2% of the world's population suffers from chronic migraines. Researchers from Israel have now found t ...
JUN 26, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
JUN 26, 2020
New Method Identifies Different Types of Nerve Support Cells
Neurons are a well-studied cell type in the brain. But another type of brain cell called glia has received less attentio ...
Loading Comments...