In a study from the University of Tsukuba, scientists found that the left parietal region—a brain area that is also affected in symptomatic AD—becomes unusually important in the brain connections of people with pre-clinical AD.
Although a lot is known about brain alterations in symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease (AD), less is known about changes in the brain network early in the disease process.
There are two main reasons for our lack of knowledge about brain alterations early in AD: one because it’s difficult to accurately predict who will get AD in the near future, and two, because time-consuming investigation methods have often been used.
In the study, researchers used a relatively rapid method to see changes in brain networks in people with a very high risk of AD.
The research team recruited older adults who did not yet have dementia but were carriers of the apolipoprotein E4 gene, which increases the risk of both AD and the accumulation of beta-amyloid (the main protein that builds up in the brain of patients with AD).
The researchers used a technique called positron emission tomography (PET) to identify amyloid accumulation—which they took as a sign of early AD—in each person’s brain, and investigated changes in the brain network using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Both imaging methods are clinically advantageous because they are relatively common and quick to perform.
The investigators then looked at whether there was a link between amyloid accumulation and a range of brain network parameters.
They found that in people with pre-clinical AD, the left parietal region becomes more important in the brain network.
Notably, however, they did not find any link between amyloid accumulation and any other AD-related brain measures.
These results suggest that changes in the brain network occur very early in AD, before the development of large-scale brain structural and cognitive changes
In the future, these alterations may be used to diagnose very early AD.
The team says in addition to possible diagnostic use, these findings may be helpful for selecting subjects for clinical drug trials and for assessing how well treatments work.
This is important because many treatments are aimed at preventing AD in people who have not yet developed symptoms, and it can be difficult to identify such individuals.
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The study was conducted by Professor Tetsuaki Arai et al and published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.
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