Brain Size May Predict Risk For Early Alzheimer's Disease
December 27, 2011
Source: American Academy of Neurology
New research suggests that, in
people who don't currently have memory problems, those with smaller
regions of the brain's cortex may be more likely to develop symptoms
consistent with very early Alzheimer's disease. The study
is published in the December 21, 2011, online issue of
Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
"The ability to identify people who
are not showing memory problems and other symptoms but may be at a
higher risk for cognitive decline is a very important step toward
developing new ways for doctors to detect Alzheimer's
disease," said Susan Resnick, Ph.D., with the National Institute on
Aging in Baltimore, who wrote an accompanying editorial.
For the study, researchers used
brain scans to measure the thickness of regions of the brain's cortex in
159 people free of dementia with an average age of 76. The brain
regions were chosen based on prior studies showing
that they shrink in patients with Alzheimer's dementia. Of the 159
people, 19 were classified as at high risk for having early Alzheimer's
disease due to smaller size of particular regions known to be vulnerable
to Alzheimer's in the brain's cortex, 116 were
classified as average risk and 24 as low risk. At the beginning of the
study and over the next three years, participants were also given tests
that measured memory, problem solving and ability to plan and pay
The study found that 21 percent of
those at high risk experienced cognitive decline during three years of
follow-up after the MRI scan, compared to seven percent of those at
average risk and none of those at low risk.
"Further research is needed on how
using MRI scans to measure the size of different brain regions in
combination with other tests may help identify people at the greatest
risk of developing early Alzheimer's as early as possible,"
said study author Bradford Dickerson, M.D., of Massachusetts General
Hospital in Boston and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.
The study also found 60 percent of
the group considered most at risk for early Alzheimer's disease had
abnormal levels of proteins associated with the disease in cerebrospinal
fluid, which is another marker for the disease,
compared to 36 percent of those at average risk and 19 percent of those
at low risk.
Adapted from the
Academy of Neurology
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