A new noninvasive MRI technique has been developed that can detect the earliest stages of Alzheimer's, which could lead to better treatments for the condition.
Northwestern University scientists and engineers developed an MRI probe that pairs a magnetic nanostructure with an antibody that seeks out the amyloid beta brain toxins responsible for the onset of the disease.
These magnetic nanostructures cause the accumulated toxins to show up as dark areas in MRI scans of the brain.
"We have a new brain imaging method that can detect the toxin that leads to Alzheimer's disease," said William Klein, who first identified the amyloid beta oligomer in 1998. He is a professor of neurobiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.
"Using MRI, we can see the toxins attached to neurons in the brain," he added. "We expect to use this tool to detect this disease early and to help identify drugs that can effectively eliminate the toxin and improve health."
The new technique targets toxic mobile amyloid beta oligomers that attack the synapses of neurons, destroying memories and ultimately resulting in neuron death.
Oligomers may well appear over a decade before amyloid plaques - which current probes detect - appear.
The researchers delivered the nontoxic probe intranasally to mouse models with Alzheimer's and control animals without the disease.
In animals with Alzheimer's, the presence of toxins could clearly be discerned in the hippocampus in MRI scans of the brain. No dark areas, however, were seen in the hippocampus of the control group.
As well as aiding the early detection of the condition, the survey uncovered evidence that suggests the MRI probe improves memory by binding to the toxins to render them "handcuffed" and preventing them from causing further damage.
Through the demonstration of the probe, the scientists established the molecular basis for the cause, detection by non-invasive MR imaging and treatment of Alzheimer's disease.
Repeating the experiment on brain tissue from humans who had died of Alzheimer's revealed large, dark areas, indicating the presence of amyloid beta oligomers.
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