Dementia is a disease that affects the nervous system. It has various types, symptoms, and origins. Despite ongoing research, there is no known cure for this condition, but efforts are being made to find effective treatments and preventive measures.

Cognitive function decline characterizes dementia. To qualify as dementia, at least two areas of mental functioning must be impacted. Dementia can affect:

  • Memory
  • Thinking
  • Language
  • Judgment
  • Behavior

Dementia can be caused by a variety of illnesses or injuries, and can result in varying degrees of mental impairment and personality changes. While some types of dementia are progressive and worsen over time, others are treatable or even reversible. Some experts use the term “dementia” specifically to refer to irreversible mental deterioration.

A study has found that minute differences in the levels of specific proteins in blood may be early warning signs of dementia. “These findings are poised to yield significant implications for screening people at high risk for dementia and for early intervention,” Fudan University neurologist Yu Guo and colleagues write in their paper.

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With the number of dementia cases increasing globally and no known cure, an early warning system could provide more time to slow down the progression of the disease in millions of people who may be affected by it in the future.

A team led by Yu Guo compared 1,463 types of plasma proteins found in blood samples from 52,645 adults in the UK Biobank who did not have a dementia diagnosis. The study revealed that common changes in blood serum were present in the 1,417 patients who would later develop one of several types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, over a 14-year period.

The researchers found that the concentrations of four specific proteins were consistently present in the plasma of patients who would be diagnosed with dementia. These proteins include glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), neurofilament light polypeptide (NEFL), growth/differentiation factor 15 (GDF15), and latent-transforming growth factor beta-binding protein 2 (LTBP2).

GFAP is a protein found in cells that support our neuron system and has previously been linked to dementia. The researchers speculate that the presence of these proteins in the bloodstream may be linked to various factors such as blood-brain barrier dysfunction, inflammation, nerve death, or damage.

“Individuals with higher GFAP levels were 2.32 times more likely to develop dementia,” explain Guo and colleagues.

Previous studies have suggested that plasma proteins could be potential biomarkers for predicting dementia risk. However, these studies often compared individuals with and without dementia, failing to identify changes that occur before the onset of dementia and determine which biomarkers are most effective in predicting dementia. The research conducted by Guo and team successfully addressed these limitations by using large-scale and long-term data.

The study found that GFAP and LTBP2 were highly specific for predicting dementia, while NEFL and GDF15 were not. GFAP and NEFL’s blood plasma levels began to change in future dementia patients up to a decade before the onset of clear dementia symptoms.

The researchers concluded that combining GFAP with basic demographic indicators could accurately predict dementia even more than 10 years before the diagnosis. The combination of indicators applied on a subset of the data provided accurate predictions.

If a simple blood test could determine an individual’s dementia risk, early interventions such as dietary changes and prescribing physical and mental activities could be used to slow the progress of the disease and help families prepare for the future.

This news is a creative derivative product from articles published in famous peer-reviewed journals and Govt reports:

1. Everything to Know About Dementia,
2. Guo, Yu, et al. “Plasma proteomic profiles predict future dementia in healthy adults.” Nature Aging (2024): 1-14.
3. Swaddiwudhipong, N. et al. Pre-diagnostic cognitive and functional impairment in multiple sporadic neurodegenerative diseases. Alzheimers Dement. 19, 1752–1763 (2023).
4. Shah, H. et al. Research priorities to reduce the global burden of dementia by 2025. Lancet Neurol. 15, 1285–1294 (2016).
5. Teunissen, C. E. et al. Blood-based biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease: towards clinical implementation. Lancet Neurol. 21, 66–77 (2022).

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