New York - Scientists have found that a new imaging technology allows them to see the widespread loss of brain synapses in early stages of Alzheimer's disease.
The finding may one day help aid in drug development for the brain disorder characterised by memory loss.
The research, published in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association, compared the density of synapses, which transmit signals between neighbouring brain cells, in people with early stages of Alzheimer's with those of people who have no evidence of the disease.
As expected, the loss of synapses in those with an early stage of Alzheimer's was particularly high in areas surrounding the hippocampus, an area of the brain crucial to formation of memory, the scientists report.
"However, our new methods enable us to detect widespread synaptic losses throughout the brain," said first author of the paper Adam Mecca, Assistant Professor at Yale University in the US.
"This gives us confidence that we may use these results as a biomarker outcome for therapeutic trials, which could help speed development of new drugs to combat the disease."
To get a clearer picture of the early effects of Alzheimer's, the researchers used positron emission tomography (PET) imaging of a protein found in almost all brain synapses.
Previous imaging technologies had been able to show in broad strokes the loss of brain tissue or reduced brain metabolism in Alzheimer's.
However, the new PET scans showed the distribution of synaptic damage, a more specific disease pathology present at early stages of the disease, the authors said.
"These methods will allow us to examine synaptic loss at still earlier stages of disease -- when people have evidence of Alzheimer's pathogenesis but have not yet manifested symptoms," said senior author of the study Christopher van Dyck, Professor at Yale University. (Agency)