According to a new study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Waisman Center, the protein commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease, amyloid-β, and its impact on memory may not be as clear as previously thought. Lead study author Sigan Hartley, UW-Madison assistant professor of human development and family studies, and Brad Christian, UW-Madison associate professor of medical physics and psychiatry, looked at the role of amyloid-β in adults living with Down syndrome, a condition that leaves people susceptible to developing Alzheimer’s.
“Our hope is to better understand the role of this protein in memory and cognitive function,” says Hartley. “With this information we hope to better understand the earliest stages in the development of this disease and gain information to guide prevention and treatment efforts.”
For the study, researchers looked at 63 healthy adults with Down syndrome, aged 30 to 53, who had no signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Over a course of two days, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans to get images of participants’ brains. They found that 22 percent of the adults had elevated levels of amyloid-β protein but showed no evidence of diminished memory or cognitive function, the negative consequences of the elevated protein.
“There are many unanswered questions about at what point amyloid-β, together with other brain changes, begins to take a toll on memory and cognition and why certain individuals may be more resistant than others,” says Hartley.