After a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s diseases (AD), family members and individuals often want to know the expected rate of progression in order to plan and maximize quality time.

Moreover, emerging techniques that allow an early AD diagnosis have made this prognosis all the more valuable.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis believe they have found a method to answer the question. They have discovered a biomarker that predicts how rapidly a patient’s memory and other mental abilities will decline after the disorder is diagnosed.

The study appears in the journal Neurology.

In 60 patients with early Alzheimer’s disease, higher levels of the marker, visinin-like protein 1 (VILIP-1), in the spinal fluid were linked to a more rapid mental decline in the years that followed.

Scientists need to confirm the results in larger studies, but the new data suggest that VILIP-1 potentially may be a better predictor of Alzheimer’s progression than other markers.

“VILIP-1 appears to be a strong indicator of ongoing injury to brain cells as a result of Alzheimer’s disease,” said lead author Rawan Tarawneh, MD.

“That could be very useful in predicting the course of the disease and in evaluating new treatments in clinical trials.”

VILIP-1 was originally identified as a potential indicator of brain cell damage in the laboratory of Jack Ladenson, PhD, the Oree M. Carroll and Lillian B. Ladenson Professor of Clinical Chemistry in Pathology and Immunology at Washington University.

Scientists think VILIP-1 serves as a calcium sensor in brain cells. It is released into the cerebrospinal fluid when the cells are injured.

In an earlier study, Tarawneh and her colleagues showed that healthy subjects with high levels of VILIP-1 were more likely to develop cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease over a two- to three-year follow-up period.

For the new study, scientists identified patients with very mild or mild Alzheimer’s disease. At the outset, researchers measured levels of VILIP-1 in patients’ spinal fluid and assessed their mental abilities using an extensive battery of tests. The cognitive function testing was repeated annually.

“Memory and other mental abilities declined faster in patients with the highest levels of VILIP-1,” Tarawneh said. “In patients with early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, VILIP-1 seems to be at least as good as — and potentially even better than — the other prognostic indicators we used in the study.”

Additional biomarkers were studied including proteins amyloid beta and tau. Changes in the spinal fluid levels of those proteins mainly reflect the fact that amyloid beta and tau are starting to form abnormal deposits in the brain.

In contrast, VILIP-1 appears to reveal how much damage to brain cells has occurred as a result of brain changes caused by Alzheimer’s.

“These results are intriguing, but we need a larger study to fully understand how the insights provided by VILIP-1 compare to those we can gain from other markers,” Tarawneh said.

Source: Washington University School of Medicine