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Posted: February 12, 2008

Telltale Signs of Alzheimer's Appear Virtually Overnight: Report

In a chilling discovery, researchers have determined that the telltale signs of Alzheimer’s disease, amyloid plaques, spring up quickly in the body, developing in just one day.

According to results of an advanced imaging study on the deadly condition, Alzheimer’s researchers found that amyloid plaque formation was relatively rare, but these predictors of Alzheimer’s could pop up in some testing animals in as little as 24 hours after a plaque-free microscopic image was taken..

"They form more rapidly than expected," Dr. Bradley Hyman, leader of the research group, said in the journal Nature. Once developed, researchers were able to spot damage in nearby nerve cells almost immediately, Hyman noted..

“While we’ve known for a long time what amyloid plaques and other changes seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients look like, we didn’t know in what order and at what speed those changes occur,” said Hyman,
director of the Alzheimer's Unit at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease. “Understanding the rules that govern plaque formation may lead us to ideas about how to intervene in the process.”.

To investigate the timing of these brain changes, Hyman and colleagues used a novel technique for microscopically imaging the brains of living animals. Using several strains of transgenic mice destined to develop amyloid plaques, they imaged initially plaque-free areas of the brain on a regular basis -- first weekly and, in subsequent experiments, daily. .

In addition to noting the virtually overnight appearan
ce of amyloid plaques, the team found that the new plaques were similar in appearance to those seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients and in mouse models, and subsequent imaging showed little change in the size of plaques once they had formed..

What happens in the test mice almost certainly happens in the human brain, Hyman said, and the finding could be applied to humans at risk for developing Alzheimer's..

The finding of Hyman’s team has immediate relevance to the effort to develop treatments for Alzheimer's disease, Dr. Sam Gandy, chairman of the Alzheimer's Association medical and scientific advisory council and associate director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at Mount Sinai Medical

Center in New York City , told the Health Day news service..

"It reinforces the idea that anti-amyloid medication is a rational strategy," Gandy said. "It reinforces the idea that attacking amyloid plaque helps nerve cells.” .

The study also answers a question about whether amyloid plaque can form only near blood vessels, Gandy said. "There have been reports that every amyloid plaque had a blood vessel somewhere," he noted. "That seems not to be the case."

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