Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center have gained new insight into where Alzheimer’s disease starts and how it spreads throughout the brain, which could lead to earlier detection and thus more effective treatments.
The findings were presented in the journal Nature Neuroscience on Dec. 22.
Scientists have known that the degenerative disease starts in a part of the brain called the entorhinal cortex, says co-senior author Dr. Scott A. Small, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. But he says his team’s study shows that it starts specifically in the lateral entorhinal cortex, which leads to the hippocampus (which we use for long-term memory). “If the LES is affected, other aspects of the hippocampus will also be affected,” he says.
The researchers also found that Alzheimer’s spreads out to other parts of the cerebral cortex, specifically the parietal cortex, which deals with spatial orientation and navigation. Alzheimer’s, they also learned, happens when changes to two particular proteins (tau and amyloid precursor protein) damage neurons in the LEC.
The study followed 96 people for an average of 3.5 years.