Study Led by Barcelona Researchers Identifies Brain Changes 20 Years before Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease

The Memory Unit of the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau and the Sant Pau Research Institute, in collaboration with the Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders Unit of the Hospital Clínic – Idibaps and researchers of the world consortium The Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network (DIAN), have managed to detect cerebral changes in healthy subjects, although without clinical symptoms, which would be indicators of the beginning of an Alzheimer’s disease.

This work, published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The journal of the Alzheimer’s Association – one of the most prestigious in the field of Neurology -, uses new magnetic resonance imaging techniques to estimate changes in the cerebral cortex some 20 years before the first alterations in memory appear.

One of the most frequent clinical symptoms in patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss, produced by alterations in the brain that take place for years before a clinical diagnosis and that, until recently, have been difficult to detect.

This project has applied a new magnetic resonance technique developed at the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau in Barcelona that allows measuring the movement of water in the brain. According to Victor Montal, engineer of the Memory Unit of the Hospital’s Neurology Service and of the Neurobiology of Dementias Research Group at the Sant Pau Research Institute, and first author of the work: “Thanks to the development of new neuroimaging modalities, and appropriate statistical modeling, we can better study the subtle changes related to Alzheimer’s disease. The results allow a better understanding of the disease, studying the trajectory of these alterations long before the clinical symptoms appear”.

The work, which is the result of an international collaboration with different experts in this field, has studied the trajectories of more than 300 participants in whom, due to a known mutation in their genome, it was possible to estimate at what point in their lives they would develop the first clinical symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease.

According to Juan Fortea, neurologist of the Memory Unit, Sant Pau’s Neurology Service and of the Neurobiology of Dementias Research Group of Sant Pau’s Research Institute, and main researcher of the project: “The new data obtained will have a great implication when designing future studies to understand unexpected findings of clinical trials with antiamyloid therapies”.

Dr. Sanchez-Valle, co-author of the article and director of the Program of Information and Genetic Counseling (PICOGEN), says that “better understand the reasons that cause the disease, and develop techniques and modeling of the changes that occur, is essential to get to cure the disease.

The study has been made possible by funding from international and national agencies. These include the National Institute of Health (USA), the Generalitat de Catalunya through the PERIS project, the Carlos III Health Institute and CIBERNED.

Reference: Montal V, Vilaplana E, Pegueroles J et al. “Biphasic cortical macro- and microstructural changes in autosomal dominant Alzheimer’s disease”. Alzheimer´s & Dementia: the journal of the Alzheimer´s Association. In press. DOI: 0.1002/alz.12224


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