Alzheimer’s disease begins decades before the onset of any symptoms, such as memory loss.
Consequently, early diagnosis increases the chances of slowing the disease down with drugs.
In a study from Karolinska Institutet and elsewhere, scientists found that a protein called GFAP is a possible biomarker for the very early stages of the disease.
The results suggest that GFAP, a presumed biomarker for activated immune cells in the brain, reflects changes in the brain due to Alzheimer’s disease that occur before the accumulation of tau protein and measurable neuronal damage.
The study could one day lead to earlier detection of this serious and common disease.
Alzheimer’s disease causes 60 to 70% of all dementia cases, according to the Swedish Brain Foundation.
In Alzheimer’s disease, nerve cells in the brain degenerate as a result of the abnormal accumulation of the proteins beta-amyloid and tau.
As more brain neurons become damaged, this manifests in the dysfunction of cognitive functions such as memory and speech.
The disease progresses insidiously and biological changes in the brain begin already 20 to 25 years before memory loss and other cognitive symptoms become evident.
In the study, the team looked for biomarkers in blood for very early pathological changes in a rare and inherited form of Alzheimer’s disease that accounts for less than 1% of all cases.
People with a parent with Alzheimer’s disease caused by a mutation have a 50% risk of developing the disease themselves.
They analyzed 164 blood plasma samples from 33 mutation carriers and 42 relatives without the inherited pathogenic predisposition. The data were collected between 1994 and 2018.
Their results reveal clear changes in several blood protein concentrations in the mutation carriers.
The first change was an increase in GFAP (glial fibrillary acidic protein) approximately ten years before the first disease symptoms.
This was followed by increased concentrations of P-tau181 and, later, NfL (neurofilament light protein), which we already know is directly associated with the extent of neuronal damage in the Alzheimer’s brain.
This finding about GFAP improves the chances of early diagnosis.
If you care about Alzheimer’s, please read studies about antioxidants that could help reduce the risk of dementia, and 5 steps to protect against Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
For more information about brain health, please see recent studies that herb rosemary could help fight COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s disease, and results showing this stuff in mouth could help prevent Alzheimer’s.
The study was conducted by Charlotte Johansson et al and published in the journal Brain.
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