In a new study, neurologists report that a brain imaging scan can identify individuals at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers participating in the population-based Mayo Clinic Study of Aging used an advanced brain imaging technique called proton MR spectroscopy on 311 people in their 70s and 80s who had no cognitive problems.
The new technique allowed investigators to see if the study participants had abnormalities in several brain metabolites that may be biomarkers, or indicators, of future Alzheimer’s disease.
The research is published in the online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
In the study, PET scans were also performed to assess the level of amyloid-beta deposits, or plaques, in the brain. Prior research has demonstrated that these deposits are one of the first signs of changes in the brain due to Alzheimer’s disease.
Additionally, the participants were given tests of memory, language and other skills.
“There is increasing evidence that Alzheimer disease is associated with changes in the brain that start many years before symptoms develop,” said Jonathan M. Schott, M.D.
“If we could identify people in whom the disease process has started but symptoms have not yet developed, we would have a potential window of opportunity for new treatments—as and when they become available—to prevent or delay the start of memory loss and cognitive decline.”
Researchers discovered 33 percent of the participants had significantly high levels of amyloid-beta deposits in their brains.
Those with high levels of amyloid-beta deposits also tended to have high levels of the brain metabolites myoinositol/creatine and choline/creatine.
People with high levels of choline/creatine were more likely to have lower scores on several of the cognitive tests, regardless of the amount of amyloid-beta deposits in their brains.
“This relationship between amyloid-beta deposits and these metabolic changes in the brain are evidence that some of these people may be in the earliest stages of the disease,” said study author Kejal Kantarci, M.D., M.Sc.
“More research is needed that follows people over a period of years to determine which of these individuals will actually develop the disease and what the relationship is between the amyloid deposits and the metabolites.”
In summary, while MR spectroscopy can help to identify individuals at potential risk for Alzheimer’s disease, the technique cannot be used for diagnosis.
Source: American Academy of Neurology