Researchers have discovered a brain disease that has similar symptoms as Alzheimer’s, but is biologically different. In this multi-institutional study, co-led by Peter T. Nelson, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Kentucky’s Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, and John F. Crary, M.D., Ph.D., of Pathology & Neuroscience with Mount Sinai Hospital, researchers discovered the neurological disease called primary age-related tauopathy (PART). Patients with PART develop cognitive impairment that can be indistinguishable from Alzheimer’s disease, but they lack the amyloid protein plaques of Alzheimer’s.
“To make an Alzheimer’s diagnosis you need to see two things together in a patient’s brain: amyloid plaques and structures called neurofibrillary tangles composed of a protein called tau,” said Nelson. “However, autopsy studies have demonstrated that some patients have tangles but no plaques and we’ve long wondered what condition these patients had.”
Researchers from the United States, Canada, Europe, and Japan came together to determine the criteria needed for a diagnosis. They determined that those who have tangles resembling those found in Alzheimer’s but have no detectable amyloid plaques should now be classified as having PART.
“Until now, PART has been difficult to treat or even study because of lack of well-defined criteria,” said Dr. Nelson. “Now that the scientific community has come to a consensus on what the key features of PART are, this will help doctors diagnose different forms of memory impairment early. These advancements will have a big impact on our ability to recognize and develop effective treatments for brain diseases seen in older persons.”