The accumulation of amyloid in brain tissue is an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease. An elaborate study from the VUmc Alzheimer Centre and the University Medical Centre of Maastricht has now identified these plaques in ten percent of healthy fifty year-olds. Furthermore, the protein accumulations seem to occur more frequent in people with a higher education. These results were published in JAMA.
By analysing data of more than ten thousand people from 56 international research centres, the scientists showed that amyloid plaques are already present around twenty to thirty years before the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The plaques were identified in ten percent of healthy fifty year-olds, increasing to 44 percent of healthy ninety year-olds. However, “Alzheimer protein accumulations do not automatically lead to disease development”, remarks Pieter Jelle Visser, clinical epidemiologists in Maastricht and Amsterdam. “It is a risk factor, but not everybody with plaques will eventually suffer from dementia.”
Additionally, the distribution of amyloid plaques in society showed a remarkable pattern: they were more frequent in people with a higher education. “A possible explanation is that the brains of higher educated people have more backup capacity, enabling them to endure more damage before the first symptoms become noticeable”, says Willemijn Jansen, one of the investigators of the Maastricht UMC+.
These results will support research on the development of Alzheimer drugs. Especially substances acting in an early stage of disease development are wanted since they could prevent permanent brain damage.
Sources: VUmc, UMC+ Maastricht, JAMA
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