Researchers at the CSIC Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona have discovered a biomarker that may provide a route to treatment for Alzheimer’s a full decade before symptoms appear. The biomarker, mtDNA, was found in the study participant’s spinal fluid. Dr. Ramon Trullas was the lead author of the study which was published in Annals of Neurology.
In the study, the CSIC researchers demonstrated that a decrease in the content of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in a person’s spinal fluid may be a preclinical indicator for Alzheimer's disease and could even be a direct cause. The researchers say that the decreased mtDNA levels in the spinal fluid likely reflect the diminished ability of mitochondria to fuel the brain's neurons, which would then trigger the death of the neuron.
In August of 2010, results of a study published in the Archives of Neurology reported on biomarkers found in the spinal fluid of 90 percent of the study participants with Alzheimer’s disease. This new discovery by the Barcelona researchers shows signs of potential Alzheimer’s disease even earlier.
The report says that the decrease in the concentration of mtDNA precedes the appearance of “well-known biochemical Alzheimer's biomarkers (the Aβ1-42, t-tau, and p-tau proteins).” This new discovery suggests that the pathophysiological process of Alzheimer's disease starts earlier than previously thought and that mtDNA depletion may be one of the first predictors of the disease.
More testing will be needed to confirm the results of this study. The researchers hope that other laboratories and hospitals will successfully replicate their findings. The greatest hope, of course, is that by very early detection using this method of testing mtDNA in spinal fluid may eventually lead the way to discover a method of blocking the degeneration of neurons.
Do people want to know they are at risk?
One reason that some people would rather not know that they have a high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease is that there is no cure. New discoveries, such as the mtDNA test, could change that. However, even without this potential for very early treatment, early detection is important.
A recent study conducted at the University of Eastern Finland followed the progression of Alzheimer’s in their participants over a three year period. According to Psychologist Ilona Hallikainen and Adjunct Professor and Psychologist Tuomo Hänninen, the results concluded that early detection of the disease makes a difference in symptoms later on. Early diagnosis provided valuable time for targeted therapy to help people better manage their everyday activities than those who were diagnosed at a more advanced stage of the disease. Additionally, the study found that in relation to the stage of the disease, the people who were diagnosed early also showed fewer psychological and behavioral symptoms at the end of the study.