Alzheimer’s protein predicts future brain shrinkage


By Claire Bromley | Wednesday 01 January 2020

Scientists in the US have shown that scans to visualise a hallmark Alzheimer’s protein, tau, can be used to predict brain shrinkage around 15 months in advance.

The study is published in the scientific journal Science Translational Medicine.

Our expert’s reaction

Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK said:

“Tau is one of two proteins that are known to build and cause damage in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia. While the build-up of the amyloid protein occurs early in the disease, research has shown that tau builds up later, closer to when symptoms appear.

“This relatively small study adds to evidence that tau may drive the death of brain cells, and could explain why symptoms get worse as tau spreads through the brain. While the majority of volunteers in the study were under the age of 65, making it harder to generalise the findings to everyone with the disease, the study highlights the importance of focusing future research efforts on the tau protein.

“A number of potential Alzheimer’s drugs have been developed to target the amyloid protein and we hope that by intervening early, these drugs could be effective at slowing or stopping the disease. But for the best chance of success, it’s crucial to explore as many avenues for treatment as possible.

“Tau offers a promising alternative for Alzheimer’s medicines, and we’re already seeing drugs against the protein starting to be developed. The ability to track tau in the brain will be critical for testing treatments designed to prevent the protein causing damage, and the scans used in this study could be an important tool for future clinical trials.

“These findings add to our growing understanding of Alzheimer’s disease, and with more support we can build on this progress to make breakthroughs possible.”


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Claire Bromley