Detecting brain changes years before Alzheimer’s disease onset

2013

Challenge

In 2010, it was estimated that as many as 5.2 million people aged 65 and older in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is expected to more than double by 2050. Developing targeted strategies for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease remains a priority, but a major obstacle to early intervention is the identification of early markers of brain changes that occur before the onset of cognitive impairment.

Advance

IRP researchers led by Lori Beason-Held, Ph.D., described for the first time that older adults who later develop cognitive impairment show different patterns of longitudinal change in brain function as measured by cerebral blood flow many years before cognitive decline begins, when compared to individuals who remain cognitively normal throughout life.

Impact

This finding demonstrates that changes in brain function are apparent before memory problems arise, and include both longitudinal increases and decreases in brain activity during the preclinical phase of Alzheimer’s disease. Deviation from the expected pattern of longitudinal change in brain function may assist in identifying people at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease and point to mechanisms associated with memory decline.

Publications

Beason‐Held LL, Goh JO, An Y, Kraut MA, O'Brien RJ, Ferrucci L, Resnick SM. (2013). Changes in brain function occur years before the onset of cognitive impairment. J. Neurosci. 33(46), 18008‐14.