Scientists involved in the research project hope the signs, detectable in spinal fluid and brain scans, will aid the understanding of how the disease progresses in order to produce new treatments for the more common form of the disease, which is not inherited.
The ‘timeline’ of the disease was published in The New England Journal of Medicine and developed by a team of researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis.
The research indicated the following:
- The earliest detectable changes, a drop in spinal fluid levels of the key ingredient of Alzheimer’s brain plaques, can be detected 25 years before the anticipated age of onset.
- The plaques in the brain become visible on a brain scan 15 years before memory problems become apparent.
- Increased levels of a protein called tau in the spinal fluid appears and the shrinkage of parts of the brain also becomes evident at around 15 years before memory loss.
- A reduction in the brain's use of glucose and slight memory problems in certain areas can be detected 10 years before full-blown symptoms.
Dr Randall Bateman, Professor of Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine said, “A series of changes begins in the brain decades before the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are noticed by patients or families, and this cascade of events may provide a timeline for symptomatic onset. As we learn more about the origins of Alzheimer's to plan preventive treatments, this Alzheimer's timeline will be invaluable for successful drug trials."
Dr Laurie Ryan, Clinical Trials Program Director at the National Institute on Aging, in America, said, “These exciting findings are the first to confirm what we have long suspected, that disease onset begins years before the first sign of cognitive decline or memory loss. And while participants are at risk for the rare, genetic form of the disease, insights gained from the study will greatly inform our understanding of late-onset Alzheimer's disease.”
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