Alzheimer’s Protein Amyloid is Strong Predictor of Memory Decline

Research from Australia has revealed that the presence of the hallmark Alzheimer’s protein amyloid in the brain is a greater predictor of memory decline than carrying the Alzheimer’s risk gene APOE4. The research is published on 16 October in the journal Neurology.

The protein amyloid occurs naturally in the brain, but can start to clump together to form amyloid ‘plaques’ in the brain during Alzheimer’s disease. In this study, the scientists used advanced brain scanning techniques to measure the build-up of amyloid in 141 healthy older adults over an 18month period.

The volunteers, who had an average age of 76, also underwent cognitive testing and provided blood samples for the researchers. The blood samples were used to detect whether or not the volunteers had the Alzheimer’s risk gene APOE4. While having this risk gene does not cause someone to get the disease, it can increase a person’s risk.

The study showed that participants with high levels of amyloid in their brain showed a faster rate of memory decline over the study than those with low levels. Volunteers with the APOE4 gene also showed faster decline in visual memory over the 18 month period than those without the risk gene, but this was not as marked as volunteers with high amyloid levels.

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“We know that people with the APOE4 gene can be at higher risk of Alzheimer’s, but it doesn’t mean they will definitely develop the disease. This study shows that the amount of the hallmark Alzheimer’s protein amyloid in the brain is a stronger indicator of memory decline than whether someone has the APOE4 gene.

“There is a lot of research currently underway to develop ways of stopping amyloid from building up in the brain. These findings suggest that drugs which prevent amyloid build-up could have real potential for slowing the disease. We know that amyloid can start to appear years before symptoms, so testing potential new drugs at an early stage of the disease will be vital. With over half a million people in the UK living with Alzheimer’s, we must invest in research to defeat this devastating disease.”

This material has been published with the kind permission of Alzheimer Research UK.

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