In a new study from Johns Hopkins, researchers found the development of dementia, often from Alzheimer’s disease, late in life is associated with abnormal blood levels of dozens of proteins up to five years earlier.
Most of these proteins were not known to be linked to dementia before, suggesting new targets for prevention therapies.
In the study, the team analyzed blood samples of over ten thousand middle-aged and elderly people.
They found 38 proteins whose abnormal levels were strongly linked to a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s in the five years following the blood draw.
Of those 38 proteins, 16 appeared to predict Alzheimer’s risk two decades in advance.
Although most of these risk markers may be only incidental byproducts of the slow disease process that leads to Alzheimer’s, the analysis pointed to high levels of one protein, SVEP1, as a likely causal contributor to that disease process.
SVEP1 is a protein linked to the thickened artery condition, atherosclerosis, which underlies heart attacks and strokes.
More than six million Americans are estimated to have Alzheimer’s, the most common type of dementia, an irreversible fatal condition that leads to loss of cognitive and physical function.
Despite decades of intensive study, there are no treatments that can slow the disease process, let alone stop or reverse it. Scientists widely assume that the best time to treat Alzheimer’s is before dementia symptoms develop.
Efforts to gauge people’s Alzheimer’s risk before dementia arises have focused mainly on the two most obvious features of Alzheimer’s brain pathology: clumps of amyloid-beta protein known as plaques, and tangles of tau protein.
Scientists have shown that brain imaging of plaques, and blood or cerebrospinal fluid levels of amyloid-beta or tau, have some value in predicting Alzheimer’s years in advance.
But humans have tens of thousands of other distinct proteins in their cells and blood, and techniques for measuring many of these from a single, small blood sample have advanced in recent years.
The researchers will continue to analyze proteins in banked blood samples from long-term studies to identify potential Alzheimer’s-triggering pathways — a potential strategy to suggest new approaches for Alzheimer’s treatments.
If you care about Alzheimer’s disease, please read studies about a new way to effectively prevent Alzheimer’s disease and findings of this blood pressure problem may increase Alzheimer’s disease risk.
For more information about dementia and your health, please see recent studies about mid-life heart disease prevention may prevent later dementia and results showing that this common health problem linked to higher risk of dementia.
The study is published in Nature Aging. One author of the study is Josef Coresh, MD, PhD, MHS.
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