A case study from the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet sheds light on the pathological course of Alzheimer’s disease. The brain of the first Alzheimer’s patient to display amyloids demonstrable with a PET scanner has been studied both during progression of the disease and after death.
One pathological characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease is the accumulation in the brain of beta-amyloid proteins to form amyloid plaques. However, it is not known how early the plaques forms in the brain, whether they are the primary cause of the disease or what pathogenic role is played by other changes in the brain.
The very first PET scan in the world of amyloid plaque in a living patient with the amyloid-binding compound 11C-PIB was performed in 2002 by Professor Agneta Nordberg at Karolinska Institutet on a 56-year old Alzheimer’s patient. The researchers then monitored the patient as the disease progressed with regular PET scans and memory tests. After the patient died, the team carried out pathological and neurochemical analyses of the brain tissue.
The combined result analyses, which are now published in the renowned neurological journal Brain, give a detailed picture of how Alzheimer’s disease develops. For example, the results show that high concentrations of amyloid plaques were discovered at an early stage of the disease when the patient suffered slight memory loss. The levels remained unchanged during the course of the disease, in contrast to the increasingly declining energy metabolism in the brain, which was also measured using PET as the patient’s memory gradually deteriorated.