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A new picture of the brain may reveal the key to Alzheimer's

Boston University physicists correlate disappearance of vertical structures with loss of brain function

Vertical structures, called microcolumns, found in the cerebral cortex of normal brains, are disrupted in the brains of people affected by Alzheimer's disease, report Boston University scientists in the cover story of the May 9th issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

"These structures, normally found in the cerebral cortex -- the six-layered portion of the human brain that controls higher functions such as rational thought and speech -- may hold the key to understanding, and perhaps reversing, the ravages of this devastating disease," says H. Eugene Stanley, co-senior author and director of Boston University's Center for Polymer Studies.

The team of physicists, working on tissue samples supplied by Bradley Hyman, director of the Alzheimer's Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, developed a novel imaging technology based on statistical physics to visualize and analyze brain tissue. They compared the brains of subjects stricken with Alzheimer's disease (AD) and a related condition known as Lewy body dementia (LBD) with those from control subjects.

The new imaging technique revealed microcolumns -- chains of about 11 neurons linked together like the segments of a snake -- running perpendicularly through the levels, or laminae, of the cerebral cortex in normal subjects. "In LBD we saw practically no such microcolumns," says lead author Sergey Buldyrev, "and in AD the columns were much smaller and less pronounced than in the controls."

Microcolumns have been believed to play a role in brain function for some time, but this is the first time they have been quantified and compared in normal and diseased brains. Furthermore, the study revealed that the absence of microcolumns is in direct proportion to the number of fibrillary tangles in the brain, but not related to the number of senile
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Contact: Joan Schwartz
joschwar@bu.edu
617-353-4626
Boston University
7-May-2000


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