A recent study from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, has found that individuals who have an increase in inflammation during midlife – that is maintained into late life – have greater abnormalities in the brain’s white matter, ultimately affecting cognitive function and possibly leading to dementia.
Learn more about the study and what it means for future dementia research and prevention.
The study from Johns Hopkins analyzed data from over 1,500 participants over a 21-year period. The team tracked levels of a blood biomarker of inflammation called a “C-reactive protein” and then looked at that biomarker’s relationship with dementia.
In the study, participants visited researchers five times, an average of every three years. During the final visit, participants had an MRI scan to reveal white matter damage in the brain. Following the first visit, researchers also collected blood samples from each participant to measure levels of inflammation as shown by the C-reactive protein.
They found that the 90 participants who had chronic inflammation also had the most white matter damage in the brain. White matter is responsible for carrying information between nerve cells and damage can result in cognitive decline and lead to dementia.
Keenan Walker, the lead researcher of the study, says, “We found that individuals who had an increase in inflammation during midlife that was maintained… have greater abnormalities in the brain’s white matter structure, as measured with MRI scans.” He continues, “This suggests to us that inflammation may have to be chronic, rather than temporary, to have an adverse effect on important aspects of the brain’s structure necessary for cognitive function.”
The research team believes that their results suggest a causal relationship between chronic inflammation and the development of dementia. Chronic inflammation can be caused by cardiovascular disease, diabetes, heart failure, hypertension and infectious diseases like hepatitis C and HIV.
Researchers caution that this is only an observation showing a correlation and more research is needed to establish causation.
Dr. Rebecca Gottesman, the senior study author, says, “Our work is important because currently there aren’t many treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, and inflammation may be a reversible factor to prolong or prevent disease onset.” She concludes, “Now, researchers have to look at how we might reduce inflammation to reduce cognitive decline and neurodegeneration.”
Have you seen a link between the conditions that cause chronic inflammation and cognitive decline or dementia? Share your stories with us in the comments below.