Clues to the progression of Alzheimer's disease revealed in brain imaging studies

WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov. 15 A novel imaging agent heralded for its potential to diagnose Alzheimer's disease during life is now giving researchers information never before available about how and where the disease progresses in the brain. Results of this new research involving Pittsburgh Compound-B (PIB) which binds to the telltale beta-amyloid deposits in the brain of Alzheimer's patients were presented by University of Pittsburgh researchers today at Neuroscience 2005, the 35th Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, being held Nov. 12-16 in Washington, D.C.

Prior to this study using PIB there had not been a way to monitor non-invasively what is happening in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease, a significant barrier to studying disease progression and monitoring the efficacy of treatments.

Developed by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, PIB, when coupled with positron emission tomography (PET), gives researchers a picture of beta-amyloid, or amyloid plaque, deposits in the brain. The distinguishing factor between Alzheimer's disease and other dementias is the presence of amyloid plaques that are thought to cause the death of brain cells. Studies have demonstrated that PIB can detect the accumulation of amyloid plaques when patients are alive. This could lead to accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease at very early stages. Previously, a definitive diagnosis of the disease could only be made through an autopsy after the patient's death, typically at a very late stage of the illness.

According to one University of Pittsburgh study reported at the Society for Neuroscience meeting, the pattern of PIB retention in the brain suggests that amyloid plaques deposit sequentially. Amyloid plaques first appear in the brain's cingulate cortex/precuneus and frontal cortex areas, then progresses to the parietal and temporal cortex and caudate. Finally, the disease ravages the occipital cortex and sensory-motor cortex. These f


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