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2016 Grants - Rodrigue
Links Between Brain Iron and Beta-Amyloid Deposition in Aging and Mild Cognitive Impairment
Karen Rodrigue, Ph.D.
The University of Texas at Dallas
2016 New Investigator Research Grant
Is iron accumulation in the brain an early risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease?
As the brain ages it undergoes a number of events that may impair its function, including changes in its structure, metabolism, and the levels of certain proteins and molecules. It can be difficult to determine which of these changes represent the normal aging process, and which may indicate mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition of subtle memory loss that may precede Alzheimer’s disease.
For example, people with Alzheimer’s disease tend to have high levels of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid in their brains, which can form “plaques” and impair nerve cell communication. Amyloid plaques are considered a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, yet some cognitively healthy older adults with beta-amyloid accumulation in their brains do not develop Alzheimer’s disease. The impact of high beta-amyloid protein levels in the brains of healthy people is not entirely clear.
Another brain change associated with aging is the accumulation of iron molecules which can stress or damage nerve cells. It is not known if changes in brain iron levels are a part of the normal aging process or an early indicator of risk for cognitive decline. There is a need to better understand which brain changes are associated with normal aging versus those that may increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Karen Rodrigue, Ph.D. and colleagues plan to determine if brain iron accumulation is an important age-related risk factor for cognitive decline. They will use brain imaging to measure levels of iron and beta-amyloid protein in healthy people and people diagnosed with MCI. Memory tests will allow the researchers to identify subtle differences in brain function between study participants. The researchers will determine if people with MCI have higher levels of brain iron and examine how this relates to beta-amyloid accumulation and changes in cognitive function.
The results of this work will help determine if accumulation of iron in the brain may be an early indicator of the risk for MCI or Alzheimer’s disease. These studies may also shed new light on the relationship between iron accumulation and beta-amyloid in the brain. Ultimately this work could lead to the development of new strategies for the detection and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.