Researchers identify Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers in spinal fluid

Written by Phoebe Heseltine, Future Science Group

10-year study of spinal-tapped biomarkers confirms the predictability of Alzheimer’s disease onset. 

In a recent study at Johns Hopkins University (MD, USA), researchers have identified biomarkers capable of detecting the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in susceptible patients, before symptoms appear.

By tapping cerebral spinal fluid from healthy but high-risk patients over a period of 10 years, the team found a correlation between the two Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers, tau and beta amyloid, in the fluid. It was therefore a baseline ratio of the two proteins in the fluid that was indicative of the advancement of mild cognitive impairment. It was also found that over time, increased tau and decreased beta amyloid was suggestive of Alzheimer’s disease onset.

The study was performed on a cohort of 265 participants, each were at their cognitive normal at their baseline assessment but through annual diagnoses over the 10 years, each subsequently developed mild cognitive impairment or dementia.

According to Marilyn Albert, Professor of Neurology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, “When we see patients with high blood pressure and cholesterol, we don’t say we will wait to treat you until you get congestive heart failure. Early treatments keep heart disease patients from getting worse, and it is possible the same may be true for those with presymptomatic Alzheimer’s.”

Although the two biomarkers are well investigated, there is still no consensus on what causes the erosion of memory that characterizes the disease. It is thought that gaining insights into biomarkers may help develop new therapies by catching the disease before it starts to cause cognitive impairment.

Albert continued, “It has been hard to see Alzheimer’s disease coming, even though we believe it begins developing in the brain a decade or more before the onset of symptoms. We wondered if we could measure something in the cerebral spinal fluid when people are cognitively normal to give us some idea of when they will develop difficulty. The answer is yes.”

Source: Moghekar A, Li S, Lu Y et al. CSF biomarker changes precede symptom onset of mild cognitive impairment. Neurology. 81(20), 1753–1758 (2013).