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

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