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Alzheimer’s Disease May Be Evident Decades Before First Signs Of Cognitive Impairment

mitochondriaResearchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine have found that patients with Alzheimer’s disease have lower glucose utilization in the brain than those with normal cognitive function, and that those decreased levels may be detectable approximately 20 years prior to the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. This new finding could lead to the development of novel therapies to prevent the eventual onset of Alzheimer’s. The study is published online in the journal Translational Neuroscience.

Using mice modified to develop Alzheimer’s disease, the research team found that when β-amyloid, an abnormal protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease, starts to become detectable in the brain in its soluble toxic form, the mitochondria, or “power plants” of the cell where glucose is converted into energy, became impaired. Within the equivalent of about 20 human years, mice with decreased energy metabolism developed signs of Alzheimer’s disease, such as cognitive defects and impairment of the synaptic terminal (the area of brain cells important in memory formation).

“This evidence in mice validates that the diagnosis of probable Alzheimer’s disease may be the end result of impairment in brain cell energy production,” said the study’s lead author, Giulio M. Pasinetti, MD, PhD, The Saunder Family Professor in Neurology, and Professor of Psychiatry, Geriatrics, and Adult Development at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “Identifying that mitochondrial impairment is evident years earlier than cognitive defects is a major breakthrough.”

“This new evidence could revolutionize the way we design interventions,” said Merina T. Varghese, MD, co-author of the study and Postdoctoral Fellow in Neurology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “This study sets the stage for the development of potential novel preventions or therapies to apply in humans, even when they have normal cognitive function, to prevent the eventual onset of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Material adapted from Mount Sinai Medical Center.

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4 Responses to Alzheimer’s Disease May Be Evident Decades Before First Signs Of Cognitive Impairment

  1. avatar
    Stephen Elliott March 30, 2011 at 9:16 AM #

    Hi Chris, I would like to understand if there is a correlation in brain glucose utilization with effective breathing. It is well understood that as we age, breathing depth tends to diminish. It is also understood that one of the functions of breathing is to facilitate the movement of blood upward against the force of gravity, i.e. to the brain.

  2. avatar
    Christopher Fisher, PhD March 30, 2011 at 9:30 AM #

    That is an interesting hypothesis Steve. I am not sure how one would investigate this from an empirical standpoint. Perhaps compare the incidence of Alzheimer’s in experienced breathers to the general population… though it be correlational and significantly confounded (could not tell if breathing or other positive lifestyle factors accounted for the result).

    Also do not forget about this extremely important study posted to BMED Report recently: “Potentially Ground Breaking Study Reports That The Liver, Not The Brain, May Be The Origin Of Alzheimer’s Disease Plaques,”

    I am not sure how this liver finding might impact your breathing / Alzheimer’s disease hypothesis.

    • avatar
      Stephen Elliott March 30, 2011 at 9:45 AM #

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for your consideration. I think the most fruitful beginning would be to examine the breathing patterns of those with Alzheimer’s and pre-Alzheimer’s as a standard part of patient assessment.

      If their breathing is characteristically rapid, shallow, and asynchronous, then a second step might be to determine if there is a characteristic breathing pattern associated with those that suffer the disease.

      It is accepted that one of the only means by which the symptoms and progression may be mitigated is “exercise”. Breathing is a form of exercise and of course exercise necessitates breathing. Regular exercise cultivates healthier breathing habits.

      Both breathing and exercise yield improved circulatory health.

      Sub-optimal breathing has numerous deleterious affects on health, especially as we age.

      • avatar
        Christopher Fisher, PhD March 30, 2011 at 9:54 AM #

        Good points. Perhaps an interesting study would be to have a group of folks with Alzheimer’s disease receive standard treatment and another receive standard treatment plus diaphragmatic breathing and see how breathing impacts the progression of the disease. This could be done with various stages of Alzheimer’s disease, including pre, early, and middle stages. I doubt it would affect late stage Alzheimer’s because of the extensive neurofibral damage (plaques and tangles) that already exist.

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