In a new study from Yale, researchers found that the destruction of brain synapses underlies the cognitive deficits experienced by patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
For many years, scientists have assumed that the loss of connections between brain cells caused Alzheimer’s-related symptoms, including memory loss.
But actual evidence of the role of synaptic loss had been limited to a small number of brain biopsies and post-mortem brain exams conducted on patients with moderate or advanced disease.
However, the emergence of a positron emission tomography (PET) scanning technology, developed at Yale, has allowed researchers to observe the loss of synapses in living patients with even mild symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
In the study, the team used the new glycoprotein 2A (SV2A) PET imaging scan to measure metabolic activity at the brain synapses of 45 people diagnosed with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers then measured each person’s cognitive performance in five key areas: verbal memory, language skills, executive function, processing speed, and visual-spatial ability.
They found that the loss of synapses or connections between brain cells was strongly associated with poor performance on cognitive tests.
They also found that synaptic loss was a stronger indicator of poor cognitive performance than the loss of overall volume of neurons in the brain.
The researchers can now track the loss of synapses in patients over time, providing a better understanding of the development of cognitive decline in individuals.
They say the findings help understand the neurobiology of the disease and can be an important new biomarker to test the efficacy of new Alzheimer’s drugs
If you care about Alzheimer’s, please read studies that healthy blood vessels may be key to preventing Alzheimer’s disease, and what you should know about extra-virgin olive oil and Alzheimer’s disease.
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The study is published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia and was conducted by Christopher van Dyck et al.
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