Today’s Solutions: March 27, 2023

Alzheimer’s is a complex neurological disease, with scientists still trying to piece together the complete puzzle of factors that contribute to its development. A number of different genetic and environmental risks have been determinedthough more than 99 percent of cases are not inherited. Some of the external influences already identified are exposure to pollution, diet, and previous infections.

A new study, published in Nature Aging, dives deeper into another one of these risk factors: education level. The link between dementia and this environmental factor has been well documented, although the molecular mechanism behind it has been a mystery for decades.

What links education and dementia?

“We used education levels as an indicator of an individual’s environment because it represents things such as access to resources and health behaviors; although it is a coarse measure, it predicts a lot of important life outcomes,” said Micaela Chan, a postdoctoral scientist who worked on this study. Basically, the team is using education levels as an implication for many other types of environmental experiences.

So how does education link to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s? Dr. Gagan Wig and his team displayed that further education means a more expansive brain network organization. This is how effective the brain is at conserving energy, alongside its ability to adapt and fight off pathological disease.

The research team analyzed individuals between ages 40 and 80 over a 10 year period. Five MRI scans and multiple clinical visits were undertaken, with the data gathered used to track changes to brain network organization over time. This study is groundbreaking, as they were able to clearly distinguish differences in the network with the progression of the disease, meaning it can be used as a biomarker.

How can we use this information clinically?

“What’s exciting about this study is we’ve identified a measure of brain function that seems to be sensitive to an individual’s past and present environmental exposures during adulthood,” stated Wig. Understanding the relationship between these environmental exposures and Alzheimer’s is an important step into how we can prevent the disease. As the team has also identified a significant biomarker, this could be incorporated into diagnosis protocols in a clinical setting.

Source study: Nature AgingLong-term prognosis and educational determinants of brain network decline in older adult individuals

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