As the search for a dementia cure continues, many researchers are prioritizing early detection and prevention of the disease. One way dementia can be spotted early is through biomarkers like changes in the function and size of the brain, as well as changes in – or composition of – cerebrospinal fluid and protein levels.
Learn more about a new study that examines the role of biomarkers in the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier, as shown in the cerebrospinal fluid, and how it may predict dementia years before its onset.
The Blood-Brain Barrier and Dementia
Although there is no cure or treatment for dementia, early detection can help mitigate and sometimes even slow disease symptoms, allow for more time to prepare for a future with dementia and allow people with the disease to participate in clinical trials.
“Because of our aging population and growing public health concerns, efforts to find a reliable predictor of cognitive impairment and dementia are very important to researchers and the public,” explains Dr. Suzana Petanceska, a program director at the National Institute on Aging (NIA).
One new study published in Nature Medicine has found a potential new predictor of dementia in the cerebrospinal fluid, indicating that the blood-brain barrier has been compromised. The blood-brain barrier separates circulating blood from the brain and allows passage of some gases, molecules and water. It also controls the movement of cells and molecules surrounding neurons.
The Breakdown of the Blood-Brain Barrier Is Linked to Cognitive Impairment
The study, led by Dr. Berislav V. Zlokovic at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, evaluated two biomarkers in the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier. Involving more than 160 people, some participants exhibited signs of cognitive decline and others did not. Researchers measured the levels of a soluble form of a protein found in capillaries called platelet-derived growth factor receptor beta (PDGFRβ) in the cerebrospinal fluid. This is a soluble form of a protein that is present in cerebrospinal fluid and an indicator that the blood-brain barrier has been compromised.
Additionally, the research team used MRI-based imaging to examine the actual blood-brain barrier in 73 of the 160 participants.
They concluded that people who were cognitively impaired exhibited higher levels of PDGFRβ and an increasingly compromised breakdown of the blood-brain barrier. They did not see a correlation between the presence of beta-amyloid plaques and tau proteins, other biomarker of dementia, and these tests.
“This is a solid step towards an accurate and reliable test that could be the earliest sign of critical brain damage in some people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias,” says Dr. Roderick Corriveau, a program director at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
Researchers hope to continue examining the role of the blood-brain barrier for early dementia detection by conducting a larger second trial.
Has your parent or senior loved one had an MRI for dementia? Would they be interested in a blood-brain barrier test? We’d like to hear your stories and thoughts in the comments below.