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Brain-Scan Tool Predicts, Tracks Mental Decline

February 15, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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A UCLA-developed brain-scanning technique effectively tracked and predicted cognitive decline over a two-year period. The tool may help in testing possible preventive measures or treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

Gary Small, MD, lead author of a study about the new technique, said:

Tracking the effectiveness of such treatments may help accelerate drug-discovery efforts. Because FDDNP appears to predict who will develop dementia, it may be particularly useful in tracking the effectiveness of interventions designed to delay the onset of dementia symptoms and eventually prevent the disease.

Dr. Small was quoted in a UCLA news release. He is UCLA’s Partlow-Solomon Professor on Aging and a professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. He is also co-author of the new book The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program: Keep Your Brain Healthy for the Rest of Your Life.

The study appears in the February issue of Archives of Neurology.

FDDNP is a chemical marker, created by the research team, that binds to both plaque and tangle deposits in the brain. Such abnormal protein deposits are characteristics of Alzheimer’s. PET brain scans can pinpoint the locations of the FDDNP and thus the deposits.

Dr. Small said FDDNP-PET scanning is the only brain-imaging technique that can detect tau tangles. He said autopsy findings have shown that such tangles correlate with Alzheimer’s progression much better than do plaques. So, he said:

We are finding that this may be a useful neuroimaging marker that can detect changes early, before symptoms appear, and it may be helpful in tracking changes in the brain over time.

The study involved 43 volunteer participants, average age 64, who did not have dementia. At the start of the study, 22 had a normal aging profile and 21 had mild cognitive impairment, a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. The researchers did baseline brain scans and cognitive assessments of the subjects, then did follow-up scans and assessments two years later.

For both groups, increases in FDDNP binding in the frontal, posterior cingulate, and global areas of the brain correlated with cognitive decline. Those areas are involved in decision-making, complex reasoning, memory, and emotions. Higher baseline binding in both subject groups was associated with cognitive decline after two years.

The research team’s next step is to use FDDNP-PET to study the effects of curcumin on people with mild cognitive impairment. Curcumin, a component of the spice tumeric, has anti-amyloid, anti-tau, and anti-inflammatory properties. Stay tuned.

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