The Murky Role of Amyloid in the Brain

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

It is clear that beta-amyloid plays some role in Alzheimer's disease.  Most experts in the field believe that plaques of this protein are the key culprits, causing the death of brain cells and declining cognitive capacity.  But to be sure, there is still a lot we don't understand about how Alzheimer's disease progresses.

As testimony to this lack of clarity, data presented at the 5th annual Human Amyloid Imaging meeting, held last month in Miami, raised as many questions as were answered.  An excellent summary of the presentations is available at the Alzheimer Research Forum.

Of particular note, certain studies showed that amyloid accumulates in the brain throughout the disease course with some maximal load manifesting in the latest stages of dementia.  Other studies showed that plaque formation began several years before the first symptoms of the disease and leveled off around the time of first symptoms.  One of the largest data sets, from Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, suggested that variability of amyloid levels across individuals was so great, that group averages would continue to obscure the picture until more data is collected.

At the end of the day, amyloid will remain a target of intense scientific scrutiny until a better understanding of Alzheimer's pathology, and the role of amyloid, are both more completely understood.

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