Researchers from the University of Tsukuba in Japan have made a groundbreaking discovery in the early detection of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies. In a study recently published in Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, the team revealed changes in the cerebral neural network that could serve as biomarkers for these debilitating illnesses.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is an early symptom of several neurocognitive disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral small vessel disease, and dementia with Lewy bodies. However, as the clinical course of these conditions and treatment options vary, it is crucial to distinguish between them in their early stages.
Senior author of the study, Professor Tetsuaki Arai, explains, “Although several biomarkers for MCI have been identified, they generally require specialized neuroimaging equipment. Accordingly, we wanted to use conventional magnetic resonance imaging to compare network deficits in individuals with MCI due to Alzheimer’s and dementia with Lewy bodies.”
To achieve this, the researchers employed a similarity-based approach, which looks for similarities between cortical structures as a measure of brain connectivity. They examined microstructural brain changes in individuals with MCI due to Alzheimer’s, those with MCI due to Lewy bodies, and control participants.
Lead author Professor Miho Ota says, “The results were surprising. In patients with MCI due to Alzheimer’s, we found significant network abnormalities in specific regions of the brain. In patients with MCI due to Lewy bodies, we found similar changes but in other parts of the brain. No such abnormalities were found in the control participants.”
Furthermore, these changes were present before disease-related changes in gray matter volume.
Professor Arai adds, “Our findings indicate that it is possible to identify disease-related changes in neural networks in patients with MCI due to Alzheimer’s and those with MCI due to Lewy bodies using a similarity-based approach, and to discriminate the two conditions according to the brain regions in which these changes are found. Accordingly, network images derived using this approach may be superior to gray matter volume images, which are conventionally used, for detecting subtle microstructural brain changes.”
Given the relative availability of conventional magnetic resonance imaging devices at medical facilities, this network imaging method could be a more accessible way of assessing and comparing brain structures in individuals with MCI due to Alzheimer’s and those with MCI due to Lewy bodies. This revolutionary technique has the potential to greatly aid in the early detection and treatment of these debilitating conditions.