Some of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease have been found in the brain more than 20 years before the first symptoms usually appear.
A team of researchers from the Banner’s Alzheimer’s Institute in Arizona tested a small group of people with a genetic fault that means they are certain to develop a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Out of the 44 participants aged between 18 and 26, 20 of them carried the PSEN1 mutation for the disease. People with this mutation usually develop Alzheimer’s around the age of 45.
But writing in the journal Lancet Neurology, the team found that the participants already had structural differences in parts of the brain two decades before symptoms usually began.
Not only did those with the PSEN1 mutation have less grey matter in certain areas of their brain, but they also had higher levels of amyloid beta protein in the fluid surrounding their brain and spine.
Beta amyloid protein is known to build up ‘plaques’ in the brain, a typical indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.
In a further study of 50 people with and without the mutation, the same team found a build-up of beta amyloid plaques in the brains of people with the PSEN1 mutation as young as 20.
Researchers hope that by diagnosing the disease at this very early stage, drugs designed to halt the process of the condition are likely to be more effective than once memory loss has taken hold.
Dr Eric Reiman, one of the scientists involved, said: "These findings suggest that brain changes begin many years before the clinical onset of Alzheimer's disease."
Dr Simon Ridley, the head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "Mapping what changes happen early in the brain will help scientists to improve detection of the disease and allow potential new treatments to be tested at the right time.
"New drugs are being developed and tested to stop amyloid from taking hold, but studies like these show that timing could be crucial for whether these drugs are successful."
Because Alzheimer's is a chronic condition, it may not be covered by a medical insurance policy.
© ActiveQuote Ltd. 2012