Study links leaky blood-brain barrier to onset of Alzheimer’s disease

The quest to develop treatments for complex diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, has always kept researchers on their toes to develop innovative programs and strategies. Scientists are focusing on developing various tests that may help in the early diagnosis of the Alzheimer’s disease (AD), as well as medications and strategies that can slow down its progress.

Recently, a team of researchers from the Maastricht University Medical Centre, the Netherlands, led by radiologist Walter Backes, found a probable reason for the development of AD. According to them, leakages in the blood-brain barrier (BBB) may be a key contributor to the onset of the disease.

For the study, published in May 2016 in the journal Radiology, the researchers carried out contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans on 16 patients with early Alzheimer’s and compared them with 17 people of same age who did not have the disease. After detecting the areas of leakage in the brain of both the groups, the researchers measured the leakage rates in the BBB and generated a histogram for comparison.

Higher BBB leakage observed in people with AD

The histogram data indicated higher rate of BBB leakage in Alzheimer’s patients, as compared to the control group. The leakage in the patients was, apparently, spread throughout the cerebrum, the largest part of the located at the front of the skull.

In addition, higher proportions of both gray matter and white matter, nerve tissues that constitute the central nervous system, as well as the cortex, the outer layer of the brain, were found to be affected by BBB leakage in the Alzheimer’s patients than the control group. Gray matter is the brain tissue consisting of neuronal cell bodies that process information in the brain and are responsible for different senses of the body, such as feelings, hearing, speech, seeing and memory. White matter is composed of myelinated axons that transmit signals or communication within the gray matter areas, as well as between gray matter and various other body parts.

“Blood-brain barrier leakage means that the brain has lost its protective means, the stability of brain cells is disrupted and the environment in which nerve cells interact becomes ill-conditioned. These mechanisms could eventually lead to dysfunction in the brain,” said Backes.

Deterioration in BBB causes cognitive decline

The study could also establish a relationship between the rate of BBB leakage and cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s patients, suggesting that deterioration in BBB could be linked to the early onset of the disease. When they included various non-cerebral vascular diseases and diabetes to their analysis, the results did not change, which further strengthened the proven link between BBB leakage and development of AD.

According to Backes, this new development may aid in the diagnosis of AD at an earlier stage. “For Alzheimer’s research, this means that a novel tool has become available to study the contribution of blood-brain barrier impairment in the brain to disease onset and progression in early stages or pre-stages of dementia,” he added.

Recovery road map

Though the symptoms of AD surface slowly, they may exacerbate over time. It is a complex condition that has no cure, however, certain medications can help alleviate the symptoms or slow down disease progression. It is important to seek help from a mental health expert, who can help deal with the disease and improve the quality of life.

If you or your loved one is suffering from any mental condition, including AD, which is affecting your day-to-day life, it is imperative to seek immediate help. For information about mental health services, you can connect with the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline. You may call us at our helpline number 855-653-8178 or chat online with one of our experts to know more about mental health centers in the U.S.