On the way to a more reliable diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease


Scientists at UCLouvain's Institute of NeuroScience are proposing a new way of diagnosing Alzheimer's disease during the patient's lifetime, thanks to a powerful mass spectrometry tool that can characterise proteins.

In Alzheimer's disease, a protein known as tau plays a key role in the onset of symptoms, by accumulating in neurons as aggregates that spread throughout the brain. Until now, however, this disease has only been confirmed following an autopsy.

Researchers at UCL have just identified a new lead—the subject of a study published in Nature Communications—that would enable more accurate diagnosis of patients suffering from these symptoms. This is because the disease sometimes develops in unusual areas of the brain, which currently leads to misdiagnosis and, consequently, to inappropriate treatment.

The team of scientists at the Institute of NeuroScience and the de Duve Institute at UCLouvain, led by Bernard Hanseeuw, compared the aggregated tau protein with the soluble tau protein because the latter has the advantage that it can be characterised while patients are still alive by means of a lumbar puncture.

This research was made possible thanks to a powerful tool available at UCLouvain's de Duve Institute, mass spectrometry, which is capable of characterising proteins.

This study confirms that the problem with neurodegenerative diseases is the elimination or modification of these proteins once they have been produced. This opens up avenues for developing a biomarker, and therefore a diagnosis, but also for pinpointing which modifications cause this protein to aggregate, or not.

A discovery that's paving the way for new therapeutic approaches!