Discovering a new starting point for Alzheimer’s disease
The discovery of a biomarker linked to the development of Alzheimer’s Disease could lead to a new way of screening the elderly population for early signs of the disease.
A team of scientists from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre at the University of Sheffield have discovered that a loss of cells that use dopamine may cause the part of the brain responsible for forming new memories to function less effectively. This breakthrough has the potential to revolutionise our approach to the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in elderly people.
Alzheimer’s, by definition is irreversible and progressive. Worldwide, at least 50 million people are believed to be living with the disease or other forms of dementia. Often it’s the symptoms of the disease rather than the dementia itself which results in death. Whilst it’s not until symptoms develop that Alzheimer’s is usually diagnosed, the impact on the brain begins much earlier.
Now scientists have discovered that a loss of cells that use dopamine – a neurotransmitter that has a number of functions including regulating movement and emotional responses – may cause the part of the brain responsible for forming new memories to function less effectively. This highlights a possible disease starting point and an opportunity to change the disease course.
The findings have the potential to revolutionise screening for the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease by changing the way brain scans are acquired and interpreted as well as using different memory tests.
Lead author of the study, Professor Annalena Venneri, from the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) at the University of Sheffield, said: “Our findings suggest that if a small area of brain cells, called the ventral tegmental area, does not produce the right amount of dopamine for the hippocampus, a small organ located within the brain’s temporal lobe, it will not work efficiently.
“The hippocampus is associated with forming new memories, therefore these findings are crucial to the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. The results point at a change which happens very early on, which might trigger Alzheimer’s disease.
“This is the first study to demonstrate such a link in humans.”
To progress, more studies are necessary, but these findings could lead the way for new methods of screening the elderly for early signs of Alzhiemer’s disease. The result maybe different treatment options which could potentially change or prevent the course of the disease before it has the opportunity to destroy a patients memories and capabilities.
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