Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London, have established a blood-based test that could predict Alzheimer’s risk up to 3.5 years before clinical diagnosis.
The recent research1, published in the journal Brain, lends credence to the notion that elements in human blood might regulate the process of neurogenesis (the growth of new brain cells). Neurogenesis occurs in the hippocampus, a critical brain region involved in learning and memory.
While Alzheimer’s impacts the production of new neurons in the hippocampus in the early stages, previous studies could only explore neurogenesis in its later stages via autopsies.
Diagnosing Alzheimer’s 3.5 Years Earlier
The study included 56 people with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). MCI is the loss of memory or cognitive abilities and affects 5% to 20% of adults aged 65 and up, but it is not grave enough to interfere with everyday life. A person with MCI is usually aware of their condition. While MCI may not always result in Alzheimer’s, approximately 10% to 15% of patients develop dementia. About 36 out of the 56 subjects were later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
The researchers used human neurons and blood to replicate the process of neurogenesis in a dish. They treated the cells with blood collected from individuals with MCI to determine how those cells changed in reaction to blood as Alzheimer’s advanced.
Researchers discovered that changes in neurogenesis started 3.5 years before a clinical diagnosis using blood samples collected the furthest away from when the subjects were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
The scientists discovered that baseline information derived from blood samples might forecast the development of MCI into Alzheimer’s up to 3.5 years before a clinical diagnosis.
Blood from patients whose Alzheimer’s progressed within 3.5 years induced a reduction in cell growth and division as well as an increase in apoptotic cell death (or programmed cell death).
According to researchers, this study provides the first proof that the human circulatory system can influence the brain’s capacity to create new cells. They also discovered that blood samples taken near the time MCI developed into Alzheimer’s showed a rise in neurogenesis or the maturation of brain cells.
Although the exact causes of the increased neurogenesis are still unknown, the researchers speculated that it could be an early compensating mechanism against the neurodegeneration (loss of brain cells) which occur in individuals developing Alzheimer’s.
The research team concluded that these results could open the way for early disease prognosis, disease progression monitoring, and future mechanistic studies.
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