Alzheimer protein found in young adults’ brains
Some people are wise beyond their years, while others have an untimely buildup of a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have found the abnormal protein called amyloid – also known as brain plaque – in twenty-year-olds’ brains. “Amyloid is bad,” research professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and study co-author Changiz Geula said. “We don't know the exact mechanism by which it causes damage, or if amyloid buildup is the main trigger for Alzheimer's, so we can't say that it actually causes the disease. But for a long time we have known that it causes toxic damage, and it cannot be good for you when it accumulates.”
In the study, which was published in the March 2nd edition of the journal Brain, the brain tissue of 48 deceased subjects were examined (13 aged 20-66 with no mental health problems; 14 dementia-free aged 70-99; and 21 aged 60-95 with Alzheimer’s disease), and the researchers “found an accumulation of this amyloid actually inside the nerve cells of individuals as young as 20,” Geula said. “One thing this means is that the resource, the machinery, for making the clumps of plaque we see among Alzheimer's patients is already available in young individuals. The implication appears to be that if we want to prevent these clumps from forming when a person becomes old, we may need to intervene much earlier than we have thought, to try and get rid of amyloid very early in life.”
The researchers observed toxic amyloid accumulation among “basal forebrain cholinergic neurons,” – a type of neuron that is both essential to memory and attention and, like an African-American in a horror flick, typically the first to die in patients with Alzheimer’s disease – across the entire health and age spectrum. Clusters tended to be larger in older brains as well as those with Alzheimer, “but just how much variability there is among the general population remains unclear,” Geula said. “What we need to do now is look at a large number of elderly to see whether the ones who have more amyloid face a higher risk for Alzheimer's or poorer [thinking] abilities.”
The findings may shed light on where and when Alzheimer’s disease actually starts. “What this suggests is that Alzheimer's disease is truly a lifelong process,” Geula said. “If we were to try to prevent the formation of clumps in this population, these findings would suggest we would have to intervene when a person is much, much younger.” professor of psychiatry, radiology and neurology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine Dr. Yvette Sheline, who was not involved in the study, agreed. “It is interesting that amyloid accumulation could occur so early in the basal forebrain,” she said. However, Sheline criticized the study for basing its conclusions on too few samples and focusing only plaque buildup in a single brain area and neuron type. Conversely, Dr. Lon White - neurologist and Alzheimer's disease researcher at the University of Hawaii – praised the research including brains of people who died before their time of other causes.