Yale Researchers Make Breakthrough on Alzheimer’s Disease

Researchers at Yale University have tested a new method for directly measuring synaptic loss in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. Published in the Journal of American Medical Association Neurology, the study was a collaborative effort between researchers at the Yale PET Center and the Yale Alzheimer’s Disease Research Unit.

Alzheimer’s disease affects 5.7 million Americans, with that number expected to reach 14 million by the year 2050. To date, most of the research on the disease’s effects on the brain has been done postmortem. To investigate new treatments, researchers have recently explored methods for measuring memory loss in living patients.

To quantify synaptic loss, the research team used a specific radioactive chemical that binds with a protein, the SV2A, that is present in nearly all synapses. The researchers recruited 21 older adults with either early Alzheimer’s disease or normal cognitive ability. Each was inflected with the radioactive chemical and then scanned with high-resolution PET technology. The scans allowed the researchers to visualize synaptic “density” in different regions of the brain.

Findings from the researchers show that the non-invasive PET test can provide a direct measure of synaptic loss in adults with even mild cognitive impairment. Synaptic loss is an established indicator of cognitive decline. This PET imaging tool is also being used in clinical research studies at Yale for other diseases of the brain where synapse loss is a critical component of the disease, including Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, drug abuse, depression and schizophrenia.

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