Tau proteins have been associated with Alzheimer’s disease in many recent studies. When dying nerve cells contain masses of tau protein strands, this could signify an individual has the disease. Alzheimer’s disease, one of the most common causes of dementia, affects millions of Americans, according to the National Institute on Aging. Researchers are currently studying all aspects of the disease, since not much is known about how Alzheimer’s disease spreads. In a new study by Japanese researchers from the National Institute of Radiological Sciences, the researchers found that they could observe specific changes in the brain as they occur using a new imaging technique, according to CBS News.
The new imaging technique targets tau proteins by binding fluorescent compounds to the proteins. This allows the researchers to pick up the proteins on positron emission tomography (PET) scans. The PET scan “is an imaging test that uses a radioactive substance (called a tracer) to look for disease or injury in the brain,” according to MedLine Plus. The imaging technology was used on both humans and mice.
With the PET scan, the researchers were able to “correlate the spread of the tau tangles within a brain to signs of Alzheimer’s disease progression in both animals and elderly people with the disease,” according to CBS News. The research shows how a PET scan might be used in the future to track the progression of tau protein tangles. Tracking tau protein tangles might help doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s disease early on and also keep tabs on the effectiveness of a specific treatment.
In addition to improving the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, the new technology may also help diagnose other degenerative neurological conditions that involve the presence of an excess of tau tangles. The new imaging technology was featured in a study published inNeuron on September 18.