In dopamine the key to early Alzheimer’s diagnosis: the study

Dopamine is the key to diagnosing Alzheimer’s 2 years before it occurs. This is the conclusion of a study by the Irccs Santa Lucia in Rome together with the Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome and the University of Turin: the researchers verified the link between Alzheimer’s and impaired dopaminergic circuits in patients with mild cognitive disorder, precisely discovering a 2-year intervention window before the disease manifests. The same team, within the integrated research platform between Irccs Santa Lucia and Campus Biomedico University, coordinated by Marcello D’Amelio, head of the Molecular Neurosciences laboratory of Santa Lucia Irccs and full professor of Human Physiology at the Biomedical Campus University, had identified in 2017 in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), linked to the production of dopamine, one of the first events in the course of disease development, through the use of experimental models. “Vta – explains D’Amelio – is represented by a very small area, which has about 600-700 thousand neurons, a small number compared to the more than 80 billion that make up the human brain. Our study focused on the connections that are established between the Vta and the rest of the brain and how these, due to damage to the VTA, they change over the course of the disease. The result, the fruit of years of research, has been the surprising ability that VTA lesions have in predicting development of Alzheimer’s disease and the aim of this last work was to understand the time window that an analysis of the VTA is able to offer before the symptoms of the disease develop “. “The experimental setting – says Laura Serra, of the Neuroimaging laboratory of Santa Lucia Irccs in Rome – involved the use of functional neuroimaging and neuropsychological tests, two painless and non-invasive techniques with which we analyzed the activity of Vta in 35 patients with mild cognitive impairment, an important risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. ” “We then monitored for 24 months – he continues – the evolution of the patients’ condition, finding that, over the first 2 years of observation, in 16 of the 35 patients the mild cognitive disorder is converted into Alzheimer’s disease, and this conversion was anticipated by a significant reduction in the connectivity of the VTA towards areas of the brain that are critical for the symptoms of the disease. In patients who did not develop the disease, however, the Vta maintained its function unaltered “, underlines Serra. Analyzing the results, the researchers were able to confirm that the reduction of Vta connections anticipates damage to other areas of the brain by about 2 years and the appearance of the first clinical symptoms, a time window within which it is possible to use drugs aimed at counteracting the ‘evolution of the disease. “The person who realizes that he is showing the first symptoms of a cognitive disorder – suggests the neurologist Carlo Caltagirone, scientific director of Santa Lucia Irccs and co-author of the study – today has many tools that he can use to take care of his health”. Finally, the study confirmed the greater specificity of this method in accurately diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease, distinguishing it from other forms of dementia.