Clue to cause of Alzheimer's dementia found in brain samples
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found a key difference in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease and those who are cognitively normal but still have brain plaques that characterize this type of dementia.
"There is a very interesting group of people whose thinking and memory are normal, even late in life, yet their brains are full of amyloid beta plaques that appear to be identical to what's seen in Alzheimer's disease," says David L. Brody, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology. "How this can occur is a tantalizing clinical question. It makes it clear that we don't understand exactly what causes dementia."
Hard plaques made of a protein called amyloid beta are always present in the brain of a person diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, according to Brody. But the simple presence of plaques does not always result in impaired thinking and memory. In other words, the plaques are necessary – but not sufficient – to cause Alzheimer's dementia.
The new study, available online in Annals of Neurology, still implicates amyloid beta in causing Alzheimer's dementia, but not necessarily in the form of plaques. Instead, smaller molecules of amyloid beta dissolved in the brain fluid appear more closely correlated with whether a person develops symptoms of dementia. Called amyloid beta "oligomers," they contain more than a single molecule of amyloid beta but not so many that they form a plaque.
Oligomers floating in brain fluid have long been suspected to have a role in Alzheimer's disease. But they are difficult to measure. Most methods only detect their presence or absence, or very large quantities. Brody and his colleagues developed a sensitive method to count even small numbers of oligomers in brain fluid and used it to compare amounts in their samples.
The researchers examined samples of brain tissue and fluid from 33 deceased elderly subjects (ages 74 to 107). Ten subjects were normal – no plaques and no dementia. Fourteen had plaques, but no dementia. And nine had a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease – both plaques and dementia.
They found that cognitively normal patients with plaques and Alzheimer's patients both had the same amount of plaque, but the Alzheimer's patients had much higher oligomer levels.
But even oligomer levels did not completely distinguish the two groups. For example, some people with plaques but without dementia still had oligomers, even in similar quantity to some patients with Alzheimer's disease. Where the two groups differed completely, according to Brody and his colleagues, was the ratio of oligomers to plaques. They measured more oligomers per plaque in patients with dementia, and fewer oligomers per plaque in the samples from cognitively normal people.
In people with plaques but no dementia, Brody speculates that the plaques could serve as a buffer, binding with free oligomers and keeping them tied down. And in dementia, perhaps the plaques have exceeded their capacity to capture the oligomers, leaving them free to float in the brain's fluid, where they can damage or interfere with neurons.
Brody cautions that, due to the difficulty in getting samples, oligomer levels have never been measured in living people. Therefore, it's possible these floating clumps of amyloid beta only form after death. Even so, he says, there is still a clear difference between the two groups.
"The plaques and oligomers appear to be in some kind of equilibrium," Brody says. "What happens to shift the relationship between the oligomers and plaques? Like much Alzheimer's research, this study raises more questions than it answers. But it's an important next piece of the puzzle."
More information: Esparza TJ, Zhao H, Cirrito JR, Cairns NJ, Bateman RJ, Holtzman DM, Brody DL. Amyloid-beta oligomerization in Alzheimer dementia versus high-pathology controls. Annals of Neurology. Accepted Article, Online Sept. 1, 2012.
Journal reference: Annals of Neurology
Provided by Washington University School of Medicine
- Alzheimer's memory problems originate with protein clumps floating in the brain, not amyloid plaques Apr 27, 2010 | not rated yet | 0
- Alzheimer's-like brain changes found in cognitively normal elders with amyloid plaques Mar 30, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Road block as a new strategy for the treatment of Alzheimer's Aug 22, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Sleep problems may be early sign of Alzheimer's Sep 05, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Alzheimer’s prevention better than a cure Jul 14, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
Pressure-volume curve: Elastic Recoil Pressure don't make sense
22 hours ago From pressure-volume curve of the lung and chest wall (attached photo), I don't understand why would the elastic recoil pressure of the lung is...
If you became brain-dead, would you want them to pull the plug?
May 17, 2013 I'd want the rest of me to stay alive. Sure it's a lousy way to live but it beats being all-the-way dead. Maybe if I make it 20 years they'll...
MRI bill question
May 15, 2013 Dear PFers, The hospital gave us a $12k bill for one MRI (head with contrast). The people I talked to at the hospital tell me that they do not...
Ratio of Hydrogen of Oxygen in Dessicated Animal Protein
May 13, 2013 As an experiment, for the past few months I've been consuming at least one portion of Jell-O or unflavored Knox gelatin per day. I'm 64, in very...
Alcohol and acetaminophen
May 13, 2013 Edit: sorry for the typo in the title , can't edit I looked around on google quite a bit and it's very hard to find precise information on the...
Marie Curie's leukemia
May 13, 2013 Does anyone know what might be the cause of Marie Curie's cancer
- More from Physics Forums - Medical Sciences
More news stories
For combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, 'fear circuitry' in the brain never rests
Chronic trauma can inflict lasting damage to brain regions associated with fear and anxiety. Previous imaging studies of people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, have shown that these brain regions can over-or ...
Neuroscience May 18, 2013 | 5 / 5 (1) | 0 |
The neural machinery underlying our olfactory sense continues to be an enigma for neuroscience. A recent review in Neuron seeks to expand traditional ideas about how neurons in the olfactory bulb might encode information about ...
Neuroscience May 17, 2013 | not rated yet | 0 |
(Medical Xpress)—What if the quality of your work depends more on your focus on the piano keys or canvas or laptop than your musical or painting or computing skills? If target users can be convinced, they ...
Neuroscience May 17, 2013 | 3.7 / 5 (3) | 0 |
Neurological disorders can have a devastating impact on the lives of sufferers and their families.
Neuroscience May 17, 2013 | 5 / 5 (1) | 0 |
If you're a left-brain thinker, chances are you use your right hand to hold your cell phone up to your right ear, according to a newly published study from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
Neuroscience May 16, 2013 | 2 / 5 (2) | 0 |
Research presented at Digestive Disease Week (DDW) explores new methods for managing digestive health through diet and lifestyle.
57 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0
There are significant cost and risk factors associated with two procedures commonly used to diagnose or treat gastrointestinal problems, according to research presented at Digestive Disease Week (DDW).
47 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0
The use of a smartphone application significantly improves patients' preparation for a colonoscopy, according to new research presented today at Digestive Disease Week (DDW). The preparation process, which begins days in ...
37 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0
1 hour ago | 4.5 / 5 (2) | 0 |
1 hour ago | not rated yet | 0 |
15 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |