Genetic type of Alzheimer’s may be detected years before symptoms

Measurable brain chemistry changes may appear 10 to 20 years before the first detectable cognitive impairments among people with a genetic form of Alzheimer’s, according to research presented last week at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2011 (AAIC 2011) in Paris. The results demonstrate the feasibility of performing Alzheimer’s prevention studies in this special population, according to researchers.

“We want to prevent damage and loss of brain cells by intervening early in the disease process—even before outward symptoms are evident, because by then it may be too late,” said Randall Bateman, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology at the Washington University School of Medicine and Associate Director of the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network (DIAN). “We propose accelerating efforts to prevent Alzheimer’s by treating people at highest risk for dementia caused by Alzheimer’s.”

This research focuses on a form of Alzheimer’s caused by rare genetic mutations that guarantee a person will develop the disease. Because inheriting a single copy of these genes from either parent causes Alzheimer’s, this form of the disease is called “dominantly inherited.” It’s also known as “autosomal dominant” or “familial” Alzheimer’s. People with dominantly inherited Alzheimer’s develop symptoms at a young age—usually when they are in their 40s and 50s—but sometimes as early as their 30s. This form of Alzheimer’s comprises about 1 percent of cases worldwide.

DIAN plans to start therapeutic trials in familial cases of Alzheimer’s next year.

Topics: Articles