Behind every illness that affects majority of the human population lies several causes that may or may not be preventable. In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, however, which affects as many as 5.1 million Americans, scientists believe that a combination of lifestyle, genetic, and environmental factors alter the structure of the brain. Two types of brain tissue abnormalities, namely the presence of plaques and tangles are considered as the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
Tangles and Tau Proteins
Areas of the brain that are associated with memory have tau proteins that plays an important role in stabilizing brain neurons or microtubules. When tau proteins become defective and spread to other areas of the brain, an individual may begin to experience difficulties with cognition and memory. Threads of tau proteins that twist into tangles within brain cells result in the failure of the nutrient-transporting capabilities of microtubules and the death of brain cells.
Tracking the Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease
Several years ago, studying and analyzing tau protein accumulation in the brain was only possible through autopsies, but a recent study by UC Berkeley researchers suggest that a PET scan has the capability of tracking the gradual progression of Alzheimer’s disease in cognitively healthy adults. UC Berkeley professor William Jagust, postdoctoral fellow Samuel Lockhart, visiting scholar Michel Scholl, and a team of other scientists used PET scans to produce the first images of tau proteins in the brain. This demonstrated the possibility of identifying and monitoring Alzheimer’s disease in adult patients.
PET scans were previously used to detect the presence of beta-amyloids (another protein associated with the development of Alzheimer’s) in the brain. By boosting the capabilities of PET scans to include tau imaging, scientists and researchers alike can develop more treatments against Alzheimer’s disease. Instead of the usual symptoms and therapy-based treatments, it is hoped that the future holds highly effective disease-modification treatments and medications that can significantly reduce the levels of beta-amyloid and tau proteins in the brain.
PET scan reveals new protein’s role in Alzheimer’s disease, The Daily Californian