School of Medicine

Alzheimer’s protein in blood indicates early brain changes

Nicolas Barthelemy, PhD, an instructor in neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, loads a sample into a mass spectrometer. Barthelemy and colleagues used mass spectrometry to discover that a form of the Alzheimer’s protein tau is found at high levels in the blood of people in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The discovery could pave the way toward a blood-based test to diagnose the neurodegenerative disease before symptoms appear. (Photo: Matt Miller)

Two decades or more before symptoms arise, plaques of a sticky protein called amyloid begin forming in the brains of people later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have shown that levels of a specific protein in the blood rise as amyloid plaques form in the brain. This protein can be detected in the blood of people who have yet to show signs of forgetfulness or confusion, making it a promising blood test to diagnose Alzheimer’s before symptoms appear.

The findings are published July 28 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

“The finding of a unique tau species that is closely linked to changes caused by amyloid plaques will help to identify and predict people who have or will likely develop Alzheimer’s disease,” said senior author Randall J. Bateman, MD, the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Distinguished Professor of Neurology. “This will greatly accelerate research studies, including finding new treatments, as well as improving diagnosis in the clinic with a simple blood test.”

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