New test detects Lewy body disease before symptoms

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Lewy body disease, encompassing Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia, stands as the second most prevalent neurodegenerative condition after Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers from Lund University have unveiled a groundbreaking development: a spinal fluid test capable of detecting Lewy body disease even before the onset of symptoms.

This pioneering advancement in early diagnosis opens doors for potential intervention and treatment.

The study’s findings, along with the link between a diminished sense of smell and Lewy body disease, are presented in Nature Medicine and simultaneously reported at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.

The Nature of Lewy Body Disease

Lewy body disease arises from the misfolding of the alpha-synuclein protein in the brain, leading to the formation of Lewy bodies that harm nerve cells.

This condition manifests as Parkinson’s disease when motor difficulties predominate and as Lewy body dementia when cognitive impairments take center stage.

Previously, it was impossible to definitively diagnose Lewy body disease in living individuals, often requiring post-mortem examination.

However, the newly developed spinal fluid test offers a glimpse into the presence of misfolded proteins associated with the disease, even before symptoms emerge.

Professor Oskar Hansson and his research team conducted an extensive study involving over 1,100 participants initially devoid of cognitive or motor issues.

Astonishingly, nearly 10% of them displayed Lewy bodies in the brain according to the spinal fluid test, signifying the potential for early detection.

Early Detection and Disease Progression

Participants with Lewy bodies detected through the spinal fluid test, despite being symptom-free initially, exhibited a decline in cognitive functions over time.

They were also more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease or Lewy body dementia in subsequent years. This discovery suggests that the effectiveness of medications targeting Lewy bodies may be maximized when administered in the early stages of the disease.

Identifying symptom-free individuals with a reduced sense of smell and positive spinal fluid test results could enable them to participate in drug trials aimed at halting the disease’s progression.

Sense of Smell as an Indicator

The study also underscores the strong correlation between Lewy bodies and a diminished sense of smell, even before other symptoms emerge. As the disease advances, the sense of smell further deteriorates.

This correlation is robust enough to warrant the use of smell tests for individuals over 60, followed by spinal fluid testing to detect Lewy body disease early.

Interplay of Brain Changes

In a separate analysis involving over 800 individuals with cognitive difficulties, approximately one-fourth displayed test results indicative of Lewy body disease.

Strikingly, 50% of those with Lewy body disease also exhibited the accumulation of amyloid and tau proteins, associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Individuals with both amyloid and tau, along with Lewy bodies, experienced faster disease progression, emphasizing the interconnectedness of these brain changes.

Future Prospects

Professor Oskar Hansson envisions the utilization of the Lewy body disease spinal fluid test in clinical settings to enhance diagnostics and prognosis for patients with movement disorders and cognitive symptoms.

Furthermore, he aspires to develop a blood test for Lewy body disease, akin to the strides made in Alzheimer’s disease diagnostics.

While challenges exist due to the lower concentration of brain-derived proteins in blood, ongoing research offers optimism for future advancements in early detection and intervention.


The development of a spinal fluid test capable of detecting Lewy body disease before the manifestation of symptoms represents a significant breakthrough in neurodegenerative disease diagnosis.

By shedding light on early disease stages, this innovation holds the potential to improve patient outcomes and the development of targeted treatments.

With ongoing research and innovation, the path toward earlier detection and intervention for Lewy body disease becomes increasingly promising.

If you care about dementia, please read studies about low choline intake linked to higher dementia risk, and how eating nuts can affect your cognitive ability.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies that blueberry supplements may prevent cognitive decline, and results showing higher magnesium intake could help benefit brain health.

The research findings can be found in Nature Medicine.

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