Alzheimer’s Plaque Found in People As Young As 20

Alzheimer’s Disease is an extremely debilitating neurodegenerative disorder, leading it to be a major research topic.  Alzheimer’s is thought to have a largely genetic basis, but risk factors, such as TBIs have been identified.  Caused by amyloid plaque buildup in the brain, the disease inhibits appropriate communication between neurons, as well as neuronal death in much of the cerebral cortex as well as subcortical areas.  Alzheimer’s typically effects older people, but new research suggests that interventions to prevent Alzheimer’s need to begin much earlier than previously thought.   The brains of 48 deceased people aged 20-99 were analyzed, and the results were shocking.  Amyloid plaques were found in people as young as 20 who suffered no known mental health problems.  A main cause of the horrific disease can be hiding in the brains of people who are young enough to be in college (yikes!).  The plaque buildup was specifically found surrounding cholinergic neurons of the basal forebrain region, which is heavily involved in learning and memory and attacked in Alzheimer’s.

Because of the lack of information on the subjects before they died, researchers aren’t yet aware of what this means.  It is undeniable, however, that this is crucial information in the treatment of Alzheimer’s.  The plaque buildup in people so young could have implications for a heavy genetic influence on the disease.  Because some of the subjects were so young, it becomes more unlikely that an environmental factor would cause this buildup.  And though terrifying, these findings  will hopefully shed more light on just how complicated and aggressive this disease can be.

A major shortcoming of the study is that the subjects were deceased when their brains were analyzed.  Therefore, it was extremely difficult to correlate the amyloid plaque with any additional variables.  Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s is very difficult to diagnose without autopsy or biopsy.  Usually, Alzheimer’s is diagnosed when other causes of dementia have been ruled out.  This makes it extremely difficult to see amyloid plaque in the brains of living people.  I guess all we can do now is keep hoping for advances in the treatment of Alzheimer’s!

CBS Article:

Original Study:

Alaina Baker-Nigh , Shahrooz Vahedi , Elena Goetz Davis , Sandra Weintraub , Eileen H. Bigio , William L. Klein , Changiz Geula. Neuronal amyloid-β accumulation within cholinergic basal forebrain in ageing and Alzheimer’s disease. Brain, March 2015 DOI: 10.1093/brain/awv024

One thought on “Alzheimer’s Plaque Found in People As Young As 20

  1. This post is really interesting. I did some research in this topic for my final assignment for another class. Specifically, I looked at the relationship between Alzheimer’s and sleep. I think it’s really interesting that plaques were found in brains of 20 year olds. But, it doesn’t surprise me so much after doing some research. As it turns out, sleep plays a huge role in the progression of Alzheimer’s. The plaques that build up are made of amyloid-beta and tau proteins, both of which can be seen in abundance in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. But, I was surprised to learn that dysfunctions in sleep can actually lead to accumulation of these proteins. A disrupted circadian rhythm or lack of proper sleep leads to the brain being unable to clear out build-ups of these proteins, which contributes to Alzheimer’s later in life. This information has made me rethink my own sleeping habits. It’s important to get enough sleep not just to be well rested, but because it can really potentially protect you against neurodegenerative diseases later in life. Even without having Alzheimer’s symptoms, these protein build-ups can still be present in young adults who don’t get enough proper sleep.


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