Researchers from the Karolinska Institute have made a groundbreaking discovery in the field of Alzheimer’s disease, potentially opening the door to early diagnosis and new treatment options.
Their latest study, published in the journal Nature Reviews Neurology, explores the role of astrocytes, a type of brain cell involved in maintaining optimal brain function, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia worldwide, affecting millions of people. The brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s can begin 10 to 20 years before the clinical onset of the disease, making the identification of early markers predictive of cognitive decline a critical area of research.
Astrocytes are one of the most promising targets for early detection due to their rapid response to Alzheimer’s disease progression. They play a vital role in maintaining brain homeostasis and respond to brain injuries and diseases through a defence process called reactive astrogliosis. Recent studies have shown that reactive astrogliosis can precede other well-known pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s, such as amyloid deposition and tau tangles.
The Karolinska Institute researchers have revisited cholinergic signalling pathways, focusing on the astrocytic α7-subunit of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (α7nAChRs) and their role in Alzheimer’s disease pathology and biomarkers. They found that the astrocytic α7nAChRs are likely involved in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and could be crucial in understanding the disease’s development.
The scientists suggest that astrocytic α7nAChRs could serve as an important bridge, linking reactive astrogliosis, cholinergic, and amyloid cascade hypotheses in Alzheimer’s disease. Targeting these receptors as early biomarkers with different imaging PET tracers could be a game changer in clinical settings for future Alzheimer’s diagnostics and therapeutic interventions.
The researchers believe that their findings will open new avenues for identifying novel biomarkers for early Alzheimer’s diagnosis and new targets for disease-modifying treatments. This research could also have broad implications for other neurodegenerative disorders in which reactive astrogliosis is observed.
The team has already begun testing their hypothesis using a novel in-house-developed α7nAChRs PET-tracer, KIn-83. This tracer has been extensively characterised in post-mortem human brains, and it will soon be utilized in the first-in-human PET studies.
This revolutionary discovery could lead to significant advancements in Alzheimer’s disease research, potentially improving the lives of millions of people affected by the disease. Early detection and intervention are critical to managing and potentially slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s, and this study’s findings offer hope for a brighter future in Alzheimer’s care and treatment.