Researchers explained that even though Alzheimer’s does not show visible symptoms in its early stages, the brain is damaged by toxicity which causes brain cell connections loss.
A group of scientists from the University of New South Wales in Australia now hope that their research may pave way to new screening methods and even a cure.
About 5 million U.S. adults were diagnosed with the disease in 2013.
The cause of Alzheimer’s is not yet known, but we do know for sure that age is a risk factor and the onset of the condition usually occurs after age 60. Clinicians are also aware that the older the patient is, the higher the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or other neurodegenerative disease is.
The condition was first detected by Dr. Alois Alzheimer more than a century ago in a woman that died from a bizarre form of mental illness. Dr. Alzheimer studied his late patient’s brain tissue and noticed that there were unusual changes in her brain. While she was alive, the woman displayed memory issues and uncommon behavior.
After analyzing her brain tissue, Dr. Alzheimer wrote in a report that he had found unusual ‘clumps’ and ‘tangled fibers’ in the woman’s brain. The clumps are now known as ‘amyloid plaques,’ while the fibers are scientifically dubbed ‘tau tangles.’
The lead author of the latest study, Dr. Vladimir Sytnyk, noted that according to the new findings, the first symptoms, which signal the disease’s onset, are the loss of brain cell connections. And since this loss can be observed before symptoms are visible, study investigators hope that their study, which was recently published in the journal Nature Communications, may help with an early diagnosis.
Dr. Sytnyk explained that brain cell connections are needed in all brain functions. But they are especially helpful in learning new things and maintaining a good memory. He underscored that brain cell connectivity tends to become weaker long before neurons start to die and cause mild cognitive impairment.
Dr. Sytnyk’s team analyzed a protein dubbed ‘neural cell adhesion molecule 2,’ in short NCAM2. This protein along with other molecules helps brain cell connections stay strong and operational.
The research team found that NCAM2 levels were unusually low in Alzheimer’s patients after their death. Researchers also found that the lowest levels of the protein were recorded in the hippocampus, or the area of the brain that helps us build memories.
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