Brain Changes Could Predict Alzheimer’s Earlier

Scientists in Finland have discovered changes in the brain that may signify the transition between early memory problems and Alzheimer’s. The study, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, opens up new avenues for improving early diagnosis of the disease and identifying people at risk.

The researchers from the VTT Technical Research Centre examined factors which could predict whether someone with early memory problems, called mild cognitive impairment (MCI), would go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease. The scientists performed a prospective study, taking blood samples from 143 people diagnosed with MCI, 37 people with Alzheimer’s disease and 46 healthy controls and followed the participants for up to 31 months.

Blood samples were analysed for their content of ‘metabolites’- small molecules found in body tissue and fluid involved in chemical reactions. There are a number of factors which can shift the balance of metabolites in the body, including age, diet, and disease. By looking at the profile of different metabolites in the blood of the volunteers, the scientists could identify signatures of particular molecules which were most associated with each state of health.

At follow up, 52 out of the 143 people who started the study with MCI had progressed to Alzheimer’s. Analysis of their biochemical signature showed changes in a metabolic pathway – called the pentose phosphate pathway – was associated with this transition. The study highlights the role metabolites could play in developing new techniques for earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, or predictions of who may go on to develop the disease.

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“With many billions of chemical reactions happening in our body all the time, metabolites present a gold mine of potentially useful information for scientists. This study presents promising early results that biochemical signatures in blood could aid in the identification of people at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The study has highlighted important biological pathways which should be investigated further.

“Alzheimer’s Research UK is funding similar studies to understand more about the profiles of metabolites and how they could help us develop new ways to defeat dementia. With 820,000 people in the UK living with dementia, there is a desperate need to learn more about the changes taking place in the body and we must invest in research now if we are to make the strides which are urgently needed.”

For further information, or to speak with Dr Simon Ridley, please contact Laura Phipps, Science Communications Officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK on 01223 843304, mobile 07500803936 or email

  • Alzheimer’s Research UK is the UK’s leading charity specialising in finding preventions, treatments and a cure for dementia.
  • To help us defeat dementia, donate today by visiting or calling 01223 843899.
  • We are currently supporting dementia research projects worth over £18 million in leading Universities across the UK.
  • Research discussed is ‘Metabolome in progression to Alzheimer’s disease’ M OreÅ¡ič et al., Translational Psychiatry (2011)

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