Dramatic 3-D Video From MRI Tracks Alzheimer's in Live Patients
Contact: Dr. Paul Thompson (310)206-2101 firstname.lastname@example.org
or Dan Page, UCLA Health Sciences Communications (310)794-2265 email@example.com
Brain Tissue Loss in Alzheimer's Disease (2 year timespan)
Journal of Neuroscience More Videos
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UCLA and University of Queensland (Australia) neuroscientists using a powerful new imaging analysis technique have created the first three-dimensional video maps showing how Alzheimer's disease systematically engulfs the brains of living patients. The findings appear in the Feb. 6 edition of the peer-reviewed Journal of Neuroscience.
The dramatic time-lapse videos show the sequential destruction of brain areas that control memory function, then emotion and inhibition, and finally sensation. They also show how the disease spares small brain regions that control vision and other functions that remain intact in Alzheimer's patients.
The new analysis technique detects very fine changes in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans. It offers doctors and researchers a powerful new tool that could speed diagnosis and intervention, and development of new therapies. Currently, the impact of therapy with cholinergic drugs and antioxidants is typically assessed only with cognitive tests; the physical spread of the disease can be evaluated only at autopsy.
"For the first time, you can see Alzheimer's disease progressing in living patients", said Paul Thompson, an assistant professor of neurology at the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the study's chief investigator. "We were stunned to see a spreading wave of tissue loss. Initially confined to memory areas, this loss moved across the brain like a brush fire, destroying more and more tissue as the disease progressed."
"This type of imaging will allow doctors and researchers to pinpoint where and how fast the disease is spreading," said Thompson, a researcher at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging. "We will urgently apply this method to reveal how drugs and vaccines combat the wave of brain damage caused by Alzheimer's disease."
Alzheimer's afflicts 10 percent of people older than 65. Physicians know that brain lesions, called amyloid plaques and tangles, accumulate in Alzheimer's patients' brains. As brain cells die, memory loss and disorientation result, and a declining ability to cope with everyday life.
To track this cell death, the University of Queensland researchers used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology to scan patients with Alzheimer's disease and the normal elderly, with sub-millimeter spatial resolution. Using supercomputers, the UCLA team created color-coded maps that revealed the degenerative sequence of Alzheimer's disease via novel brain mapping methods. The wave of gray matter loss was strongly related to the progressive decline in cognitive functioning which is a key feature of the disease. The Alzheimer's patients lost an average of 5.3% of their gray matter per year. Brain cells were purged even faster in memory regions, where patients lost up to 10% a year. In contrast, healthy elderly volunteers lost only 0.9% of their brain tissue annually.
The time-lapse video based on these scans revealed that the leading edge of cell loss moved forward like a burning frontier. Patients' symptoms worsened, as the wave of cell loss hit frontal and central brain regions. These brain areas control patients' inhibitions and emotional states. After two years, the disease had engulfed virtually the entire brain.
Professor David Doddrell, Director of the Centre for Magnetic Resonance (CMR) at the University of Queensland, said, "While new treatment and diagnostic methods for Alzheimer's disease continue to be developed and tested with varying degrees of success, the use of sophisticated MRI scanning in conjunction with cognitive testing remains a 'gold standard' for quantitatively visualizing patterns of brain tissue loss associated with the disease's progression in living patients. We are extremely pleased with the success of this collaborative venture with the UCLA researchers."
The study was supported by the National Library of Medicine, the National Center for Research Resources, by a Human Brain Project Grant from the National Institutes of Health, and by GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals UK.
The study's co-authors included Kiralee Hayashi, Michael Hong, David Herman, David Gravano, Stephanie Dittmer, and Arthur Toga of UCLA; Greig de Zubicaray, Andrew Janke, Stephen Rose and David Doddrell of the University of Queensland Center for Magnetic Resonance, Australia; and James Semple of GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals, plc, and Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, UK.
NOTE: Video sequences, as well as time-lapse movies (MPEGs) and color images are available online at http://www.loni.ucla.edu/~thompson/AD_4D/dynamic.html
A copy of the full study is available here (Word .doc) and here (PDF).
Graphics related to the study can be found at http://www.loni.ucla.edu/~thompson/AD_4D/AD_WAVE_FIGS/AD_wave.html.
Journal of Neuroscience Article:
 Paul M. Thompson, Kiralee M. Hayashi, Greig de Zubicaray, Andrew L. Janke, Stephen E. Rose, Stephanie Dittmer, James Semple, David Herman, Michael S. Hong, David M. Doddrell, Arthur W. Toga Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 23, no. 3, February 1, 2003 [published, Feb. 6]. [Word .doc (131 KB)] [PDF (1.3 MB)]
Media stories on other research projects can be found here and here.
Paul Thompson, Ph.D.
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