How Alzheimer’s Plaques Attack Language, Lead to Loss

A study from Northwestern Medicine used new imaging technology to determine why people with PPA may experience language loss in the beginning stages of the disease.How Alzheimer's Plaques Attack Language, Lead to Loss

Learn more about this study and its implications for early Alzheimer’s disease detection and treatment options.

Alzheimer’s Plaques Attack Language, Lead to Loss in Primary Progressive Aphasia

Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA) is a rare type of dementia which results in the loss of language. Researchers from Northwestern Medicine, using a special imaging technique, believe they know why language is attacked in this rare form of dementia.

The technique, called Amyloid PET Imaging, allows scientists to examine the buildup of toxic amyloid in the brain as the disease progresses. Until this imaging became available, researchers could only examine amyloid accumulation in the brain post-mortem.

Researchers examined the brain scans of 32 people living with PPA and compared them to the brain scans of 22 people with Alzheimer’s memory dementia.  The study, recently published in the Annals of Neurology, found that amyloid was actually distributed differently in the brains of people with PPA with more amyloid being accumulated on the left side of the brain, the same side of the brain where language is processed.

Insights Into the Progression of Primary Progressive Aphasia

Researchers are excited by their findings and the new insight it provides into the development of dementia. Lead study investigator and research associate professor at Northwestern’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center (CNADC), Emily Rogalski, emphasizes the importance of their findings, stating:

“By understanding where these proteins accumulate first and over time, we can better understand the course of the disease and where to target treatment.”

She went on to say, “It is important to determine what Alzheimer’s looks like in PPA, because if it’s caused by something else, there is no sense in giving a patient an Alzheimer’s related drug, because it would be ineffective.”

This study is the first study to use the PET imaging technology to compare beta-amyloid accumulation in the brains of people with PPA to the accumulation of people with Alzheimer’s memory dementia.

Adam Martersteck, first author and graduate student in Northwestern’s neuroscience program is enthusiastic about the study and its implications for Alzheimer’s research saying, “This new technology is very exciting for Alzheimer’s research. Not only can we tell if a person is likely or unlikely to have Alzheimer’s disease causing their PPA, but we can see where it is in the brain. By understanding what the brain looks like in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, we hope to be able to diagnose people earlier and with better accuracy.”

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