Protein could predict cognitive decline 7 years before Alzheimer's symptoms

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
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A protein found in cerebrospinal fluid may help predict cognitive impairment. Westend61/Getty Images
  • New research investigated the potential of NPTX2, a protein found in the fluid surrounding the brain, to predict the onset of memory and thinking problems.
  • Scientists studied individuals who were initially in good mental Health, but later some of them developed mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia.
  • The study revealed that lower levels of NPTX2 were associated with an earlier onset of MCI symptoms.
  • The findings also showed that NPTX2 levels seem to change over time alongside other markers related to Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study and its findings may hold promise for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and understanding cognitive decline.

To understand the brain changes associated with mild cognitive impairment and dementia, the researchers measured the levels of a protein called NPTX2 in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), or in other words, the fluid that surrounds the brain.

The researchers saw that lower levels of NPTX2 was linked to an earlier onset cognitive decline. NPTX2 levels also changed over time alongside other markers related to Alzheimer’s disease.

The study was published in the Annals of Neurology.

They found that individuals with lower levels of the NPTX2 protein in their brain fluid (CSF) tended to experience cognitive problems and memory decline (MCI) earlier than those with higher levels of NPTX2.

This association was significant both for people who progressed to MCI within seven years from the start of the study and for those who developed it after seven years.

The researchers also discovered that the baseline levels of NPTX2 helped predict when the symptoms of MCI would appear, even when taking into account other well-known Alzheimer’s disease markers found in the CSF.

This suggests that the levels of these markers might be related to changes in NPTX2 and could play a role in the development of cognitive problems.

First author Anja Soldan, Ph.D., associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University, explained the key findings to Medical News Today, saying, “our study shows that low levels of the protein ‘neuropentraxin 2’ (or NPTX2) measured in the cerebrospinal fluid among cognitively healthy middle-aged and older adults may predict later onset of mild cognitive impairment (MCI).”

“[NPTX2] has previously been linked to learning and memory in mice. Our research adds evidence that low levels of this protein in humans may be an early predictor of MCI years before symptoms appear. Of note, our findings show that low levels of the protein improve the prediction of cognitive impairment even after accounting for levels of traditional biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease (i.e., those related to amyloid plaques and tau tangles) and well-established genetic risk factors for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.”
— Dr. Anja Soldan

Dr. Soldan explained that the NPTX2 protein was “predictive of subsequent symptoms of MCI both within and beyond seven years before symptoms occurred.”

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