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Brain activity in youth may presage Alzheimer's pathology

Researchers who used five different medical imaging techniques to study the brain activity of 764 people, including those with Alzheimer's disease, those on the brink of dementia, and healthy individuals, have found that the areas of the brain that young, healthy people use when daydreaming are the same areas that fail in people who have Alzheimer's disease.

On the basis of their data, the researchers are proposing a new hypothesis that suggests that Alzheimer's disease may be due to abnormalities in the regions of the brain that operate the "default state." This is the term used to describe the cognitive state people defer to when musing, daydreaming, or thinking to themselves.

Writing in the August 24, 2005, issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers state that "the default activity patterns of the brain may, over many years, augment a metabolic- or activity-dependent cascade that participates in Alzheimer's disease pathology."

"The regions of the brain we tend to use in our default state when we are young are very similar to the regions where plaques form in older people with Alzheimer's disease," said the lead author of the study, Randy L. Buckner, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator at Washington University in St. Louis. "This is quite a remarkable convergence that we did not expect," Buckner adds.

The new findings are important because they could help scientists and clinicians identify and understand the beginnings of what is probably a cascade of events that ultimately leads to Alzheimer's.

The most common form of dementia among older people, Alzheimer's is characterized outwardly by the erosion of language, thought and memory. Within the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease, abnormal clumps of plaque and tangled bundles of fibers form and characterize the physical manifestation of the disease, which may affect as many as 4.5 million Americans. The causes of the disease are unknown.
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Contact: Jim Keeley
keeleyj@hhmi.org
301-215-8858
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
24-Aug-2005


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