Researchers have discovered blood markers that can help identify people with a rare, inherited form of Alzheimer’s disease a decade before symptoms appear.
Researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have discovered that a protein called GFAP can appear in blood samples from people in the very early stages of a neurodegenerative disease.
The researchers said their findings, published in the journal Brain, could lead to earlier detection of the disease and slow it down with drugs.
Charlotte Johansson, a PhD student in the Department of Neuroscience, Care Sciences and Society at Karolinska Institutet, who is the study’s first author, said: “Our results suggest that GFAP, a putative biomarker of activated immune cells in the brain, reflects changes in the brain caused by Alzheimer’s disease that occur before tau protein accumulation and measurable neuronal damage.”
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive condition, with symptoms developing gradually over many years and eventually becoming more severe.
Nerve cells in the brain degenerate due to the abnormal accumulation of two types of proteins known as beta-amyloid and tau.
The first sign of the disease is usually minor memory problems.
As more and more nerve cells are damaged, speech is affected.
In the vast majority of cases – more than 99 out of 100 – Alzheimer’s disease is not inherited, but in the rarer types there can be a strong genetic link.
In these cases, people whose parent has Alzheimer’s disease caused by the mutation have a 50% risk of developing the disease.
In their study, the researchers analyzed 164 blood plasma samples from 33 carriers of the mutation and 42 relatives without the mutation.
The researchers said their results showed “marked changes” in samples of people who carried the mutations.
Caroline Graff, a professor in the Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society at Karolinska Institutet and one of the authors of the study, said: first signs of illness.
“This was followed by an increase in the concentration of P-tau181 and later NfL (neurofilament lumen protein), which, as we now know, is directly related to the degree of neuronal damage in the Alzheimer’s brain.
“This GFAP discovery increases the chances of an early diagnosis.”