Toxic accumulation of brain protein may NOT come first in Alzheimer’s | Daily News


 

Toxic accumulation of brain protein may NOT come first in Alzheimer’s

A build-up of a protein in the brain may not be the first sign of Alzheimer’s, contrary to popular belief. Experts have long thought the accumulation of beta-amyloid was the initial hallmark of the memory-robbing disorder.

But a new study has found subtle cognitive problems occur before and at the same time as the clumps of plaque clog up the brain. Researchers discovered patients with memory problems experienced a more rapid build-up of proteins compared to those who maintained their cognitive skills.

Scientists at the VA San Diego Healthcare System say a build-up of another protein, called tau, may be the first sign of the disease. Tau is known to form tangles in the areas of the brain important for memory and then move through the organ as symptoms progress. In their latest study, the team of scientists analysed 747 people with an average age of 72 over four years.

They performed brain scans at the start of the study and once every following year to determine levels of amyloid plaque. Volunteers took part in memory and thinking tests on the same occasions, which were cross-referenced with their scan results.

At the end of the study researchers divided participants into three groups, including 305 people with normal thinking and memory skills.

Some 153 had subtle thinking and memory differences and 289 people showed mild cognitive impairment. People with thinking and memory differences went on to experience a more rapid accumulation of the toxic protein, results showed. This remained true even after adjusting for age, education, sex, genetic Alzheimer’s risk, and amyloid level at the start of the study. These volunteers also had faster thinning of the entorhinal cortex, a brain region that is impacted early in the course of the disease.

Lead study author Dr Kelsey Thomas said: ‘Our research was able to detect subtle thinking and memory differences in study participants. ‘These participants had faster amyloid accumulation on brain scans over time, suggesting that amyloid may not necessarily come first in the Alzheimer’s disease process.

‘Much of the research exploring possible treatments for Alzheimer’s disease has focused on targeting amyloid. ‘But based on our findings, perhaps that focus needs to shift to other possible targets.’ Currently, there are only five Alzheimer’s drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But the medications can only treat the symptoms of the disease, not the cause – which remains unknown to scientists.

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