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Monday 24th October 2016

Earliest signs of Alzheimers found

6th November 2012

Researchers in the United States have detected the earliest known signs of Alzheimer's disease in a group of young people.


The discovery could lead to a better understanding of how the disease progresses, suggesting that the earliest signs of Alzheimer's are detectable more than 20 years before symptoms first become apparent.

Writing in The Lancet Neurology, the research team said the findings raise important questions about the progression of the disease, which could lead to earlier detection and better clinical trials of drugs targeting this form of dementia.

The researchers, led by Eric Reiman of the Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Arizona, Yakeel Quiroz from Boston University, and the University of Antioquia, Colombia, and Francisco Lopera, also from the University of Antioquia, looked at a group of 5,000 related people in Colombia, around one third of whom have a gene mutation linked to early Alzheimer's.

This rare, inherited mutation occurs in a gene called presenilin 1 (PSEN1), and causes Alzheimer's to develop at an unusually early age.

Recent trials of Alzheimer's drugs have yielded disappointing results, and this may be because they are being tested in people who already have too much neurological damage to benefit from them.

This means that the ability to detect Alzheimer's long before clinical symptoms first appear is crucial to treating the disease.

The researchers performed a mixture of brain imaging, blood and cerebrospinal fluid tests on 44 adults aged 18–26, 20 of whom had the PSEN1 mutation that would lead to the early development of Alzheimer's.

The remaining 24 did not carry the mutation, and none of the participants showed any signs of cognitive impairment at the time of the study.

However, the tests revealed considerable differences in brain structure and function between the two groups.

The mutation carriers had noticeably less grey matter in certain brain areas, as will as greater activity in regions of the brain called the hippocampus and the parahippocampus.

Higher levels of amyloid beta protein, linked to the development of Alzheimer's, was found in the cerebrospinal fluid of the participants with the PSEN1 mutation.

Amyloid beta is usually present around 10 – 15 years before clinical symptoms appear in Alzheimer's patients, but this group showed elevated levels in the cerebrospinal fluid before any damaging amyloid plaques had been deposited in the brain.

Experts concluded that brain changes could begin many years before the clinical onset of Alzheimer's disease; earlier than was suggested by previous brain imaging studies in at-risk individuals, offering a potential window for early intervention.

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