The fact that there is still no effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease is due in part to the fact that current therapies start too late,” said Mathias Jucker, a researcher at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases and the Hertie Institute for Research. Brain Clinic.
Jucker, the study’s director, and his colleagues adopted a different approach to that of other works in order to observe, in his words, “the death of neurons.”
The test they developed is set in the neurofilament, a structural protein that is part of the internal skeleton of neurons.
When brain neurons are damaged or die, the neurofilament seeps into the cerebrospinal fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord, and from there goes into the bloodstream.
Jucker and his team collaborated with researchers from the School of Medicine at the University of Washington in San Luis Missouri to study whether high levels of this protein in the blood reflect neurological damage, as occurs when a large amount of neurofilament is detected in the cerebrospinal fluid.
They analyzed data and samples from more than 400 individuals that are part of the study population of the so-called Alzheimer’s Network of Dominant Legacy, led by the University of Washington and that encompasses a group of families in which the disease occurs at an early age due to certain genetic variants.
Of the participants, 247 had the genetic variant of early onset and 162 were family members not affected by the disease.
In those with the genetic variant, the levels of neurofilament were higher at the beginning of the tests and increased with the passage of time, while in the rest they were low and remained stable.
There were marked changes in blood up to 16 years before the calculated onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms.
According to Jucker, they were able to “predict the loss of brain mass and the cognitive changes that occurred” years later, through brain scans and cognitive tests that revealed that those with increases in their levels of neurofilament were more likely to show signs of the disease.
In addition, high levels of this protein in the blood may be a sign of other neurological diseases or injuries, so the findings of this study may be applied in the future to identify brain damage in people with neurodegenerative conditions, according to their authors.
For now, before the test can be used in patients with Alzheimer’s or other neurodegenerative conditions, researchers must determine what level of neurofilament in the blood is too high and how quickly it needs to increase to become a concern.