A team at the University of Leeds, part-funded by Alzheimer's Research UK, the UK's leading dementia research charity, and the Medical Research Council (MRC) studied an enzyme called alkaline phosphatase. It's thought the enzyme could be linked to the build-up of tau, a hallmark toxic protein in Alzheimer's disease.
The researchers, led by Prof Nigel Hooper, studied blood plasma samples and post-mortem brain tissue, provided by the MRC London Neurodegenerative Diseases Brain Bank, from people with Alzheimer's and from healthy people. They found that people with the disease had more of the enzyme in the hippocampus - one of the first regions of the brain to be damaged in Alzheimer's - than healthy people when they died.
People with the disease also had greater levels of the enzyme in their blood. Further analysis showed that higher levels of alkaline phosphatase were associated with a greater loss of cognitive function.
Although levels of the enzyme in blood samples were higher in Alzheimer's, the measurements were still within the normal range, meaning they would not be useful for diagnosing the disease. However, the findings could give researchers a new tool for clinical trials, helping them to monitor how people are responding to treatments.
The findings are published today (20 October) in the journal Neurodegenerative Diseases.
"Dementia is not a normal part of ageing, and with research it can be beaten, but we need to know much more about its causes in order to develop effective treatments. I hope our research can help bring us a step closer to that goal."
"Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, which currently affects 820,000 people in the UK and more than 7,500 people in Leeds alone. If we are to find new treatments that could really benefit people in the future, it's crucial that we invest in research now."
"What's so fascinating about this study is that the researchers were able to directly compare healthy tissue with samples from Alzheimer's sufferers to demonstrate the importance of alkaline phosphatase levels in the brain.
"This cutting-edge research would not be possible without access to a reliable supply of high-quality brain tissue samples, which is why the UK Brain Banks network is so important as a national resource to support neuroscience research."
Graham Askew, Simon Walker, BBSRC (Jan 2018), £699,781
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society (Jan 2018), £512,801
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society-Research Fellows Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £94,681
Helen Miller, AB AGri Grant (Dec 2017), £73,600
Simon Walker, Royal Society Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £10,000
Carrie Ferguson, Bryan Taylor, Harry Rossiter, The Physiological Society (Dec 2017), £7,392
Ralf Richter, Royal Society (Dec 2017), £6,000
Christine Foyer, British Council Newton Fund (Dec 2017), £49,840
Adrian Whitehouse and colleagues in School of Chemistry and University of Liverpool, MRC (Nov 2017), £622,319
Michelle Peckham, Neil Ransom, MRC (Nov 2017), £495,159
Dave Lewis, British Council India (Nov 2017), £22,540
Elton Zeqiraj, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Hannah Dugdale, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Shaunna Burke, Cancer Research UK Innovation Grant (Nov 2017), £20,000
Alex O'Neill and colleagues in Chemistry, BBSRC (Nov 2017), £431,865
Jessica Kwok, Wings for Life (Nov 2017), £87,365
Tom Bennett, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £523,679
Neil Ranson, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £494,318
Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £490,426
Amanda Bretman and colleagues from UEA, NERC (Oct 2017), £430,886
Juan Fontana, Rosetrees Trust consumables grant (Oct 2017), £22,500
Helen Miller, DSM Nutritional Products AG (Sep 2017), £69,988
Neil Ranson, Juan Fontana, Mark Harris, Michelle Peckham, Ralf Richter, Peter Stockley, Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle and colleagues in Engineering, FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Sep 2017), £418,000
Jamie Johnston, Physiological Society (Sep 2017), £10,000
Frank Sobott, Adrian Goldman, Mark Harris, Andrew Macdonald, Stephen Muench, Sheena Radford and colleagues in FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Aug 2017), £415,000
Ralf Richter, David Brockwell, Eric Hewitt, Jessica Kwok, Emanuele Paci and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £600,000
Eric Blair, Adrian Whitehouse, Nicola Stonehouse, Alison Baker, Richard Bayliss, Joan Boyes, Ryan Seipke, Sally Boxall and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £376,000
Stefan Kepinski, Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso, Tom Bennett, Michelle Peckham, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £331,000
Roman Tuma, Lars Jeuken, Paul Millner, Sheena Radford, Peter Stockley and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £222,000
Vas Ponnambalam, Darren Tomlinson, Stephen Wheatcroft, BHF (May 2017), £107,878
Graham Askew in collaboration with Bangor University, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £477,383
Stephen Muench, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £132,945
Nic Stonehouse, MRC (Mar 2017), £906,341
Bill Kunin, Steve Sait, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £602,831
Adrian Goldman, EU (Mar 2017), £546,576
Sheena Radford, Wellcome Trust (Mar 2017), £1,836,482
Beatrice Filippi, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Tom Bennett, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Jamie Johnston, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Ryan Seipke, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £52,116
Mary O'Connell, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £46,986
Hannah Dugdale, NERC (Feb 2017), £504,138
Anastasia Zhuravleva, EPSRC (Jan 2017), £100,792