As Alzheimer’s disease (AD), an irreversible form of dementia, becomes more common in our aging population, more of us know people suffering from it. AD affects roughly 50 million people worldwide. Perhaps the most famous person who died of AD was former president Ronald Reagan.
Researchers around the world are following many different approaches to this debilitating disease, looking at possible causes, biochemical manifestations, and treatments. There are periodic advances that we should take as encouraging news. Here are two, reported in Science Daily.
NEW TESTS IDENTIFY EARLY CHANGES IN ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE BEFORE SYMPTOMS APPEAR.
Researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, Barcelona Beta Research Centre in Spain, University Medical Centre in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and the University of Paris have found new forms of a protein that become abnormal in the very early stages of AD before cognitive (thinking) problems develop. The scientists developed new tools to detect these subtle changes and confirmed their results in human samples.
This is important because it will allow people to be tested for their risk of the disease before there are any impairments, permitting earlier treatment and tracking both the progression of the disease and the effectiveness of treatments.
Alzheimer’s patients undergo changes in a brain protein called tau (rhymes with “cow”). It can form clumps that accumulate in specific areas of the brain, causing inflammation. Throughout the disease process, abnormal tau is released into cerebrospinal fluid, serving as a reliable marker for clinical diagnoses. The researchers developed highly sensitive techniques to measure tiny increases that precede clinical signs by several years. Increases in amount of tau over time mirrored the progression of the disease.
HIDDEN NETWORK OF ENZYMES ACCOUNTS FOR LOSS OF BRAIN SYNAPSES IN ALZHEIMER’S.
A new study on Alzheimer’s disease has revealed a previously unknown biochemical process in the brain that leads to the destruction of connections (synapses) between nerve cells (neurons) that are responsible for memory and cognition.
The findings from the Scripps Research Center present a fresh angle for discovering drugs that treat AD. This newly discovered series of abnormal chemical reactions contributes to synapse loss, the main cause of memory loss and cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s.
“We were able to show that these reactions occur in brains of Alzheimer’s patients, and when we prevented these reactions in the brains of animal models of the disease, we protected the synapses. Our findings suggest that it may be possible to intercede to reverse synapse damage.”
Three enzymes (proteins that foster biochemical reactions) were discovered to interact under disease conditions in a novel manner to trigger intense neuronal stress and synapse damage. Drugs that modulate these enzymes might help restore synapses that have been lost or prevent synapse loss in the first place.
Take-home message: (1) A new test allows detection of brain changes that lead to Alzheimer’s disease, and monitoring of disease progression and treatment effectiveness. (2) A biochemical chain reaction in brain cells leads to damage of nerve connections responsible for thinking and memory. Intervening in this chain reaction may prevent this damage. With small advances like these, scientists hope to diagnose, treat, and even prevent Alzheimer’s disease. This is a great example of how seemingly obscure discoveries can lead to life-enhancing knowledge.
“Professor Paul” Brown is a retired professor of neurophysiology, and member of the Lifestand Presents team, whose many blogs and articles on quality living for seniors can be found at Stop Acting Your Age | Facebook.