In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

July 29, 2014

New protein shakes up the search for Alzheimer’s clues

By In the Loop

DrJospehs760There's always a buzz around the Alzheimer's Association International Conference -- "the world's largest conference of its kind." One particularly buzzy story line coming out of this year's confab in Copenhagen traces back to researchers from Mayo Clinic. During the conference, Keith Josephs, M.D., took the stage to discuss the possibility of having put another piece of the Alzheimer's disease puzzle into place.

His research team's finding, according to this story on the Rochester Post-Bulletin's website, links a newly discovered protein in our brains called "TDP-43" with our risk for developing Alzheimer's disease. The protein, according to the Associated Press, is "different from the amyloid and tau that make up the sticky brain plaques and tangles long known" to be the traditional "hallmarks" of Alzheimer's. And its discovery could give researchers a new target for developing drugs and treatments for the disease. It could also, according to AP, "help explain why many people have plaques and tangles in their brain yet show no symptoms" of Alzheimer's.

The discovery has stirred up a "firestorm of interest," having been picked up by the likes of Bloomberg News, ABC News, Health Day, Washington Post and many others. "Interest was pretty incredible," Mayo's Duska Anastasijevic told the Post-Bulletin. And for good reason, because the study, which the AP notes has already been "peer-reviewed" and published in the journal Acta Neuropathologica, also includes information about a new type of brain imaging that Mayo researchers say may have the ability to "show tau tangles in living people for the first time."

According to Mayo's news release about the study, the research team led by Dr. Josephs embarked on a "large clinico-imaging pathological study" to further analyze the role the TDP-43 protein plays in one's risk for Alzheimer's disease. They studied the brains of 342 patients who had "died with pathologically confirmed" Alzheimer's disease and then "divided them into two groups based on the presence or absence" of the TDP-43 protein. What they found was that those with brains shown to be "TDP-43 positive" were "10 times more likely" to be "cognitively impaired" than those without the protein. Which all helps to prove, they say, that "TDP-43 has the potential to overpower" the way our brains age.

"If there are 2 million people walking around this country with Alzheimer's but they're not showing any symptoms of it, think of how major that is," Dr. Josephs tells the AP. "If you have this protein, you're guaranteed to have symptoms. If you do not, you have a 20 percent chance you won't show symptoms even though you have the disease."

You can hear more from Dr. Josephs in the video below. Then, tell us more about your thoughts on this story.

Tags: Alzheimer's Disease, Dr. Keith Josephs, Duska Anastasijevic, research, Research News

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