16 June 2009

Research into Aβ42 and tau protein biomarkers in cerbrospinal fluid

Biomarkers in cerebrospinal fluid and cognitive decline
Dementia News (Alzheimer’s Australia): 11 June 2009

One area of research is in identifying biomarkers that might help to predict individuals’ risk of developing dementia. A biomarker is a substance used as an indicator of a biological state.

Dr Barbara Snider, from Washington State University School of Medicine, and colleagues have been studying the presence of Aβ42 and tau proteins (two of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease pathology) in the cerebrospinal fluid of people with mild cognitive impairment. The idea is that the levels of Aβ42 and tau proteins found in cerebrospinal fluid might be indicative of the degree of Aβ42 deposition and injury to neurons and thus correlate with the rate of cognitive decline experienced by people with mild cognitive impairment or very mild dementia.

Dr Snider and colleagues studied 49 people who were aged 60 and over and who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. Each participant was given cognitive testing and a lumbar puncture to establish baseline measurements, and each had at least one follow-up assessment over an average period of three and a half years.

What emerged was that those people whose cognitive impairment progressed more rapidly and consistently had the lowest levels of Aβ42 in their cerebrospinal fluid. The same was found for those people who had the highest levels of tau proteins in their cerebrospinal fluid or high tau to Aβ42 ratios.

The researchers suggest that these findings indicate that these biomarkers in cerebrospinal fluid might provide a more sensitive and specific test for very mild Alzheimer’s disease.

But it needs to be borne in mind that any potential benefit of such testing must be balanced against the risks associated with lumbar puncture and the extent to which the results would be diagnostic.

Reference: Snider BJ et al. (2009). Cerebrospinal fluid biomarkers and rate of cognitive decline in very mild dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. Archives of Neurology 66(5):638–645.

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