Deterioration of Brain Pathways Linked to Functional Decline in Alzheimer’s

Researchers have developed a new, easy to use test to identify those at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

The work is associated with a recent brain imaging study on women at risk for Alzheimer’s disease and seeks to flag early symptoms.

In the study, York University researchers discovered deterioration in the pathways that serve to communicate signals between different brain regions needed for performing everyday activities.

Functional declines associated with difficulty in driving a car or using a computer were found to be associated with Alzheimer’s risk.

“We observed a relationship between the levels of deterioration in the brain wiring and their performance on our task that required simultaneous thinking and moving; what we see here is a result of communication failure,” said Lauren Sergio, Ph.D., in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science.

In an interview, Sergio said the findings also suggest that their computerized, easily-administered task that the study participants performed, can be used to test those at risk for Alzheimer’s disease to flag early warning signs.

“The test is a clinically feasible substitute to the more involved braining imaging tasks that people don’t, or can’t, have done routinely.”

Typically, Alzheimer’s disease is associated with memory loss, perception, and other aspects of cognition, while debility in complex movements is observed at a much later stage.

The study was recently published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Researchers studied 30 female participants of whom 10 were in their mid-20s. The rest were in their 50s or older, with half of them at high risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

“We decided to focus this study on women, as there is higher prevalence in this group, and also women who carry the ApoE4 gene are more vulnerable to the degradation of white matter,” said Ph.D. candidate Kara Hawkins, who led the study.

This genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease was one of the traits tested for in the current study.

“We scanned the brains of the participants, aiming to see if the impaired cognitive-motor performance in the high risk group was related to brain alterations over and above standard aging changes,” Hawkins said.

According to the researchers, the big question ahead is “what can be done to prevent a decline in function of a person’s brain showing signs of communication problems.”

Investigators hope to develop a proactive training method that uses a game-like cognitive-motor tool to help to maintain the brain pathways that involve thinking and moving tasks.

Source: York University/EurekAlert!