MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Emily Mason, Ph.D.
Department of Neurological Surgery
University of Louisville
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating neurodegenerative disease that currently affects one in eight Americans over the age of 65. Unfortunately, there is still no treatment that will halt or reverse the pathology associated with Alzheimer’s disease. One of the reasons for this may be that we still don’t fully understand what is happening in the very earliest stages of the disease. Previous studies have shown that one of the pathological hallmarks of the disease, called “tau tangles,” begins to accumulate in a specific area of the brain called the medial temporal lobe decades before people are typically diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. We wondered if we could use cognitive tests targeted to structures in the medial temporal lobe to pick up very subtle behavioral changes in people who were at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. We examined people who were in their 40s and 50s, which is a time when if any differences could be detected, it’s possible that pathology may be reversible.
Using a cognitive task called “odd man out” that can be easily implemented using a computer, we found that subjects at risk for Alzheimer’s disease tended to do worse in identifying differences between objects called Greebles. These objects are highly visually similar, and most people have never seen them before. Those two things make this task very difficult. We believe that this study lays some of the groundwork in developing cognitive tests targeted at relatively young subjects who may be in the very earliest stages of the disease.