Study finds link between molecular signature and Alzheimer's
Scientists in Finland have discovered how a biochemical signature can potentially predict progression to Alzheimer's disease. The study is funded in part by the PREDICTAD ('From patient data to personalised healthcare in Alzheimer's disease') project, which received almost EUR 2.9 million under the 'Information and communication technologies' (ICT) Theme of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). Results suggest that this neurological disorder is preceded by a molecular signature indicative of hypoxia and an upregulated pentose phosphate pathway. The study, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, could lead to the development of methods for early disease detection.
Led by Professor Matej Oresic, the VTT Technical Research Centre scientists say it is possible to use a simple biochemical assay from a serum sample months or even years before initial symptoms of Alzheimer's emerge, to analyse this indicator. Using this type of assay in a medical setting helps doctors perform neurocognitive assessments, and it can also be applied in identifying patients who are at increased risk of suffering from this disease, and who need further comprehensive follow-up.
The healthcare systems of Western countries are making every effort to beat Alzheimer's, a growing problem for the millions of patients diagnosed with this disease. Experts say more and more numbers of new cases emerge each year, as populations get older.
It should be noted that the progression of Alzheimer's is gradual, with the subclinical stage of illness thought to span many decades. Experts say the pre-dementia stage, which is also called 'mild cognitive impairment (MCI)', is characterised by subtle symptoms that could potentially impact complex daily activities. It is believed that MCI is a transition phase between normal ageing and Alzheimer's. According to the researchers, there is a greater risk of developing Alzheimer's when MCI is present. But the state is heterogeneous with a number of outcomes, including a return back to normal cognition.
Investigating the molecular changes and processes that define MCI patients at risk of developing Alzheimer's was high on the researchers' agenda. They used metabolomics, a high-throughput method for detecting small metabolites, to generate profiles of the serum metabolites linked to the progression to Alzheimer's. They identified which patients diagnosed with MCI at baseline later progressed to Alzheimer's. They also pinpointed the molecular signature able to identify such patients at baseline.
While no therapy currently exists for the prevention of Alzheimer's, early disease detection is important both for delaying the onset of the disease — via pharmacological treatment and/or changes in the patient's lifestyle — and for evaluating the effectiveness of potential Alzheimer's therapeutic agents.