The brains of people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease may go into hyperactive mode in the very early stages of the disease in order to compensate for deterioration, according to a Cleveland Clinic study published in the medical journal Neurology.
Researchers at Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health studied a group of 69 cognitively healthy adults. About 2/3 of the participants were at risk to develop Alzheimer’s disease based on family history or genetic markers.
Participants were placed in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner and then asked if they recognized the names of famous celebrities. Unfamiliar names also were mixed in during the questions. The brain activity of the participants was measured during the questioning to determine if persons at risk for Alzheimer’s disease would react differently than persons not at risk.
“Our results indicate that even though this was a relatively easy and low effort test there was increased activation of certain parts of the brain in at-risk individuals,” said Stephen Rao, Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator. “This may reflect a compensatory brain response by these participants to the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Dr. Rao said fMRI scans, like the ones used in the study, may eventually be used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease earlier, which could lead to improved treatment options.
“Studies have shown if we can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by five years, we will reduce the incidence by 50 percent,” he said. “If we can delay the onset by 10 years, Alzheimer’s disease will virtually be eliminated because people will have passed away for some other reason.”
In the study, one third of the participants had no family history or genetic markers to indicate they are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Another third had a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, but no genetic markers, and the last third had both a family history and genetic markers indicating risk.
In addition to the Neurology study, Dr. Rao and his team recently published a study in the journal Brain concerning the potential benefits of using fMRI scans to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in persons who have already developed memory problems but do not meet criteria for Alzheimer’s disease.
Cleveland Clinic collaborated on the study with the following institutions: the Medical College of Wisconsin, Marquette Univerity, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science and Wayne State Univerity. The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging.
About the Cleveland Clinic
Cleveland Clinic, located in Cleveland, Ohio, is a not-for-profit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Cleveland Clinic was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. U.S. News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation’s best hospitals in its annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. Approximately 1,800 full-time salaried physicians and researchers at Cleveland Clinic and Cleveland Clinic Florida represent more than 100 medical specialties and subspecialties. In 2007, there were 3.5 million outpatient visits to Cleveland Clinic and 50,455 hospital admissions. Patients came for treatment from every state and from more than 80 countries. Cleveland Clinic’s Web site address is http://www.clevelandclinic.org/.