Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Amyloid Beta Plaques, Characteristic of Alzheimer's Disease, Develop in Patients Well Before Symptoms

Researchers at Massachusetts General published a study detailing that amyloid beta plaques, the primary constituent of the plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer's disease patients, can be seen in patients well before they become symptomatic of the disease. The study consisted of 87 cognitively normal individuals with genetic risk factors for Alzheimer's and 32 patients currently diagnosed with Alzheimer's - matched for gender, race and education - who were subjected to MRI and PET brain scans. The scans showed significant structural damage to the cortex and hippocampus in cognitively normal adults whose brains were found to contain amyloid plaques. Such results are consistent with the psychopathology of many other neurodegenerative diseases. Parkinson's patients, for example, typically show >95% loss of cells within the substantia nigra, the nuclei within the midbrain responsible for motor coordination, before becoming symptomatic.

The results of this study are extremely important, as they are some of the first techniques that researchers have been able to use to identify amyloid plaques in living patients. Before these scanning techniques such as these, the only definitive way to identify individuals with amyloids plaques was through autopsy. Now that the living may have hope for definitive diagnoses, more targeted and effective cognitive exercises may be able to be developed for the purpose of staving off the early symptoms of Alzheimer's (especially since such exercises have already been clinically shown to be effective. They have not, however, been shown to be effective in slowing the progression of later and more serious stages of Alzheimer's, suggesting that these exercises may not be actually lessening amyloid-induced neurodegeneration, but rather utilizing the brain's plasticity to compensate for early cognitive losses). Ultimately, and hopefully, this could even lead to the development of medical treatments and therapies that halt thee more serious and seemingly inevitable stages of neurodegeneration that plagues so many millions of families around the world.

Posted by Connor Finnerty (2)

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