Early Detection of Alzheimer’s Disease In Blood Platelets

Posted on January 5th, 2017

A new noninvasive technology may be able to diagnose Alzheimer’s Disease prior to observable symptoms, according to researchers at the University of Chile and University of Pittsburgh published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease [R].

Tracking Tau Protein for Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosis

Blood platelets carrying an abnormal form of protein – tau protein – that converts to amyloid beta plaque in Alzheimer’s suffers can be detected by this new technology. The high percentage of abnormal tau protein to normal proteins can indicate that a patient is going to develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s or other cognitive impairments years later.

tau protein tangles, alzheimer's disease

Abnormal tau protein tangles – one of the causes of Alzheimer’s Disease

Why Tau Tangles

This electron microscope picture shows a neuron with some healthy areas and other areas where tangles are forming. Tangles destroy a vital cell transport system made of tau proteins.

In healthy neurons, the transport system is organized in orderly parallel strands. Proteins, like railroad cars, transport nutrients, cell parts and other key materials along the tracks.

A protein called tau helps the tracks stay straight. If there is too much tau, the tracks get tangled. This may be because of the excess tau or there may be excess tau because of the tangling. Scientists are still researching the cause and effect relationship.

When the tangles emerge, nutrients and other essential supplies can no longer move through the cells, which eventually causes the neuron to starve to death.

Tau Correlates to Alzheimer’s Disease

The study showed that abnormal amounts of tau protein are significantly correlated to reduction in normal brain volume measurements, especially in the areas affected by Alzheimer’s Disease including hippocampus, frontal cortex, left medial and right anterior cingulate guri, and right cerebellum.  The new tech can detect and predict the progression of Alzheimer’s before clinical symptoms present themselves.

The scientists currently require a blood test to detect the abnormal levels of tau proteins. However, they plan to study if these early diagnosis proteins can be detected in the nasal fluid. Clearly, early detection is important in order to take preventative steps.