A new study has discovered novel connections between liver dysfunction and Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
The findings, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, may lead to earlier detection of Alzheimer’s disease and ultimately better prevention.
With increasing evidence linking Alzheimer’s disease to diabetes or high cholesterol and other systemic illnesses, the research team uncovered a link between liver function and Alzheimer’s, which adds to the understanding of metabolic dysfunction in the disease.
“This is a new paradigm for Alzheimer’s research,” said study leader Kwangsik Nho, Ph.D., radiology professor at Indiana University (IU) School of Medicine.
“Until now, we only focused on the brain. Our research shows that by using blood biomarkers, we can still focus on the brain but also find evidence of Alzheimer’s and improve our understanding of the body’s internal signaling.”
The researchers evaluated more than 1,500 participants from the National Institute of Aging (NIA)-sponsored Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) for more than two years. They looked at five serum-based liver function assessments, which measure enzymes predominantly found in the liver.
By using biochemical markers, the team was able to uncover evidence of metabolic disturbance and gain a new perspective on altered liver enzymes in association with both cognitive impairment and AD pathophysiology.
The study’s focus outside the brain aligns with known risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, including metabolic disorders. According to Nho, looking elsewhere in the body for signals correlated with the disease can provide important clues toward detection and ultimately prevention.
“While we have focused for too long on studying the brain in isolation, we now have to study the brain as an organ that is communicating with and connected to other organs that support its function and that can contribute to its dysfunction,” said Rima Kaddurah-Daouk, Ph.D., of Duke University.
“The concept emerges that Alzheimer’s disease might be a systemic disease that affects several organs including the liver.”
The study was a combined effort of the ADNI, a 60-site study, and the Alzheimer’s Disease Metabolomics Consortium (ADMC). Overall, the findings shed new light on the link between the liver and brain. This line of research is expected to ultimately enable physicians to provide more personalized patient care.
“No stone can be left unturned in our attempt to understand the disease and to identify viable therapeutic targets,” said Andrew J. Saykin, Psy.D., director of the Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center at IU School of Medicine and site principal investigator for the Alzheimer’s Disease Metabolomics Consortium.