Image source: Raman Oza from Pixabay

Dementia prevention

‘Blue spot’ in the brain helps detecting Alzheimer’s early

A miniscule area in the brain, known as the locus coeruleus (LC), or blue spot, can help to identify an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease at a very early stage.

The LC is hidden deep in the brainstem and can only be detected with advanced MRI equipment. Heidi Jacobs (Maastricht University/Harvard Medical School) used MRI scans to show that the tau protein can begin to spread in the LC three decades before the first disease symptoms are visible. Scientists have long suspected that this tau protein plays an important role in the development of Alzheimer’s. Jacobs and her team recently published their findings in Science Translational Medicine.

portrait of heidi jacobs
Dr. Heidi Jacobs

Image source: Maastricht University

Many researchers believe Alzheimer’s disease is caused by the amyloid protein. But the tau protein, too, appears to play a critical role. Tau forms harmful protein tangles in the brain cells of people with Alzheimer’s. Jacobs’ research shows that the development of these protein tangles is associated with changes in the blue spot in the brain. She was able to draw the link between the accumulation of tau in the LC and accelerated memory deterioration. “The LC is tiny, so it’s difficult to map in living people,” Jacobs explains. “In Maastricht we studied this spot for the first time using new, ultra-strong MRI scanners. We shared that knowledge with Harvard Medical School, where the MRI scans were coupled with PET scans to visualise the tau protein in 174 people who have been followed in the US over the course of 10 years. We were able to show that changes in the LC in young adulthood are associated with tau-protein accumulations and memory problems typical of Alzheimer’s disease. Our findings also demonstrate that these early changes in the LC are not a normal part of ageing, but may actually signal the development of Alzheimer’s.”

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. In the Netherlands, almost 300,000 people live with dementia, a number expected to exceed half a million by 2040. At present, no drug is available that cures dementia. But if an increased risk of Alzheimer’s can be detected at a very early stage, a healthier lifestyle could in turn reduce an individual’s risk of developing dementia. “The LC plays an important role in sleep, stress, emotions and memory,” Jacobs says. “For that reason, and because this spot is affected by the tau protein so early, MRI images of it can help to identify people at increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In the future, MRI measurements of the LC may provide clues for new treatments that slow the development of Alzheimer’s.”


Source: Maastricht University

02.10.2021

Read all latest stories

Related articles

Photo

Dynamic measurement of glucose in brain

New MRI technique for early detection of Alzheimer's

A research team co-led by a scientist at City University of Hong Kong (CityU) has discovered a new, non-invasive way to detect early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, helping patients get the necessary…

Photo

Early diagnosis proteins

Study identifies 15 new biomarkers for pre­-dementia

A study by an international research group identified 15 novel biomarkers that are linked to late-onset dementias. These biomarkers are proteins, which predict cognitive decline and subsequent…

Photo

Overheard at AAIC 2020

Exciting Alzheimer's findings: ’flu vaccines and P-tau217

More than 32,000 people from over 160 countries registered for The Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC 2020) in July. This largest and most influential international conference…

Related products

allMRI GmbH – Foldable MRI wheelchair

Accessories / Complementary systems

allMRI GmbH – Foldable MRI wheelchair

allMRI GmbH
allMRI GmbH · Mobile MRI procedure lamp

Accessories/ Complementary Systems

allMRI GmbH · Mobile MRI procedure lamp

allMRI GmbH
allMRI GmbH – MRI doppler ultrasound gating device

Accessories/ Complementary Systems

allMRI GmbH – MRI doppler ultrasound gating device

allMRI GmbH
allMRI GmbH – MRI safe metal free cleaning tool set

Accessories/ Complementary Systems

allMRI GmbH – MRI safe metal free cleaning tool set

allMRI GmbH
Canon – Advanced intelligent Clear-IQ Engine for MR

Artificial Intelligence

Canon – Advanced intelligent Clear-IQ Engine for MR

Canon Medical Systems Europe B.V.
Canon – Vantage Elan

1.5 Tesla

Canon – Vantage Elan

Canon Medical Systems Europe B.V.
Subscribe to Newsletter