New research suggests that periodic evaluation of changing amyloid levels in certain brain structures may offer an important clue to predict Alzheimer’s disease.
The study was conducted by a team from The University of Texas at Dallas.
Deposits of a protein called amyloid in the brain are one of the earliest signs that an individual is at high risk for developing Alzheimer’s.
The findings indicated that early changes in amyloid in posterior cortical regions of the brain were associated with subtle declines in episodic memory—one’s memory for events, times and places that are autobiographical in nature.
Declines in this type of memory are known to be one of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Extensive evidence already indicates that amyloid slowly builds up in the brain over the course of more than a decade before individuals develop dementia.
Participants have had brain scans four years apart that assess whether the participants have amyloid deposits.
The team used these data to relate changes in amyloid deposits to changes in memory function in 126 cognitively normal adults ages 30 to 89.
The study focused specifically on participants who were initially considered “amyloid-negative” based on a positron emission tomography scan.
By following these participants over four years, the research team was able to detect increases in amyloid in specific regions of the brain.
This early relationship between amyloid and memory was even found to be present in adults ages 30 to 59.
The findings suggest that even the earliest signs of amyloid have observable consequences for memory, though not to the extent that these individuals would be considered to have dementia.
It is only by following individuals over time that we are able to observe these subtle shifts in amyloid and memory.
In 2017, the team published a study in JAMA Neurology—also using DLBS data—that found higher amyloid amounts in adults ages 40 to 59 were associated with declines in vocabulary, an area of cognition that is generally preserved as people age.
Such findings are leading researchers to believe that Alzheimer’s development might be detected many years before symptoms of cognitive decline become obvious.
The study is published in the journal Neurology.
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