Researcher finds altered cerebella in those with Down syndrome

A scientist investigating why those with Down syndrome often have poor balance and motor coordination has found that key eye reflexes are substantially altered.

The findings by University of Colorado School of Medicine researcher Alberto Costa, MD, Ph.D., could lead to new tools to assess the effectiveness of and therapies aimed at improving quality of life for those with this .

"People with suffer various degrees of motor difficulty," said Costa, whose study was published last week in the journal, Experimental Brain Research. "They tend to walk later than their typical peers; they often lack balance and have low muscle tone and poor postural control."

That's likely because Down syndrome affects the optokinetic and vestibular systems of the brain. In a healthy brain, the reacts to signals from neuroreceptors in the inner ear to produce responses to head movements. The optokinetic system uses visual information to produce eye movement. These reactions are often slow or decreased in those with Down syndrome.

Costa studied 32 participants between the ages of 14 and 36. He used special binocular goggles to measure in response to visual and vestibular stimuli. His focus was the cerebellum which is responsible for balance, posture and movement control.

"Although we have known for many years that the is disproportionally shrunk in persons with Down syndrome, we wanted to find out how their cerebella operated on a functional level," Costa said. "We found that people with Down had much diminished optokinetic and vestibular reflexes compared to typically developing individuals. As a consequence, it is likely that things may appear blurry when they ride a bike or play sports."

Because those with Alzheimer's disease also show a similar reduction in the optokinetic reflex, these new findings further support Costa's ongoing exploration of the links between Down and Alzheimer's disease.

"All individuals with Down syndrome develop a neuropathology indistinguishable from Alzheimer's disease after the third decade of life," he said.

Babies born with Down often carry the biological markers for Alzheimer's. At the same time, 20-30 percent of those with Down syndrome develop full-blown Alzheimer's dementia by the time they reach their 50s, he said.

Costa recently completed a clinical trial with the drug Memantine – used to treat Alzheimer's patients - to determine if it could boost memory and learning in those with Down syndrome. His work was chronicled in a lengthy New York Times Magazine profile earlier this month.

"Alzheimer's patients suffer similar declines to those with Down syndrome and we might be able to use the same drugs to treat both," he said. "As we continue to explore how these two conditions are linked, new avenues of treatment could arise that would not only alleviate symptoms but perhaps delay or stop the progression of these degenerative disorders."

Provided by University of Colorado Denver

5 /5 (1 vote)

Related Stories

Scientist tests promising drug on those with Down syndrome

Aug 02, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A University of Colorado School of Medicine scientist is finishing a major clinical trial on a drug that could boost cognitive function in those with Down syndrome, significantly improving their quality of ...

Recommended for you

Growing a blood vessel in a week

1 hour ago

The technology for creating new tissues from stem cells has taken a giant leap forward. Three tablespoons of blood are all that is needed to grow a brand new blood vessel in just seven days. This is shown ...

Testing time for stem cells

4 hours ago

DefiniGEN is one of the first commercial opportunities to arise from Cambridge's expertise in stem cell research. Here, we look at some of the fundamental research that enables it to supply liver and pancreatic ...

Team finds key signaling pathway in cause of preeclampsia

23 hours ago

A team of researchers led by a Wayne State University School of Medicine associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology has published findings that provide novel insight into the cause of preeclampsia, the leading cause ...

Rapid test to diagnose severe sepsis

Oct 23, 2014

A new test, developed by University of British Columbia researchers, could help physicians predict within an hour if a patient will develop severe sepsis so they can begin treatment immediately.

User comments