Early Warning - Key Alzheimer's Brain Changes Observed In Unimpaired Older Humans

Boston, Massachusetts (PressExposure) August 10, 2009 -- Amyloid b-protein plays a major pathogenic role in AD, a devastating neurodegenerative disorder characterized by progressive cognitive impairment and memory loss. In fact, one of the primary characteristics of AD is the accumulation and deposition of neuron-damaging clumps of amyloid protein. Previous studies have led to the suggestion that amyloid deposition begins many years prior to the onset of clinical symptoms. However, the exact link between amyloid deposition and memory impairment has not been clearly demonstrated in humans.

"Two recent advances in neuroimaging now allow us to explore the early, asymptomatic phase of AD, the ability to measure amyloid pathology in living humans and the identification of sensitive markers of brain dysfunction in AD," explains lead study author, Dr. Reisa Sperling from the Center for Alzheimer's Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. In addition to amyloid accumulation, AD has been associated with functional alterations in a specific network of brain regions that are intimately linked with memory formation.

Dr. Sperling and colleagues combined amyloid imaging with an associative memory functional brain imaging paradigm to study older humans who did not exhibit significant memory impairment. Importantly, the researchers found that a significant number of non-demented older individuals exhibited amyloid deposition and abnormal neural activity in key areas of the brain network thought to be involved in successful memory function. These results demonstrate for the first time that amyloid pathology in asymptomatic older humans is linked with aberrant neural responses during the process of memory formation.

"Longitudinal studies are certainly needed, but our findings are consistent with the premise that cognitively intact older individuals with amyloid pathology may already be in the early stages of AD," explains Dr. Sperling. "The combination of molecular and functional imaging techniques may prove useful in monitoring disease progression prior to significant clinical symptoms, as well as the response to amyloid-modifying therapeutic agents in subjects at-risk for developing AD."

About Brigham and Women's Hospital

Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) is a 777-bed nonprofit teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a founding member of Partners HealthCare, an integrated health care delivery system. BWH is committed to excellence in patient care with expertise in virtually every specialty of medicine and surgery. The BWH medical preeminence dates back to 1832, and today that rich history in clinical care is coupled with its national leadership in quality improvement and patient safety initiatives and its dedication to educating and training the next generation of health care professionals. In July 2008, the hospital opened the Carl J. and Ruth Shapiro Cardiovascular Center, the most advanced center of its kind. Through investigation and discovery conducted at its Biomedical Research Institute (BRI), BWH is an international leader in basic, clinical and translational research on a diversity of human diseases and is at the forefront of personalized medicine. BWH has approximately 900 scientific investigators and more than $450 million in research support, more than 50 percent of which comes from the NIH. BWH is also home to major landmark population studies, including the Nurses' and Physicians' Health Studies and the Women's Health Initiative, which have provided important information on diet and lifestyle risk factors for common chronic diseases. For more information about BWH, please visit Brigham and Women's Hospital.

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Press Release Submitted On: August 10, 2009 at 7:25 am
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