New PET imaging approach depicts widespread damage of early Alzheimer’s

A new molecular imaging technique has revealed important brain changes in people with early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The findings may serve as a marker for developing advanced drug treatments.

That’s according to a study comparing the synapses of 34 patients with the cognitive disease to 19 without it, published May 11 in the Alzheimer’s & Dementia, a journal run by the Alzheimer’s Association.

Researchers used a novel radiotracer and synaptic PET imaging—a relatively new approach—to show that the loss of synapses isn’t only confined to one area of the brain.

“…Our new methods enable us to detect widespread synaptic losses throughout the brain,” first author Adam Mecca said in a statement. “This gives us confidence that we may use these results as a biomarker outcome for therapeutic trials, which could help speed development of new drugs to combat the disease.”

A team from Yale University School of Medicine imaged the binding of synaptic vesicle glycoprotein 2A (SV2A)—a protein found in nearly all brain synapses—to show the damage inflicted on these message delivery systems in individuals with early Alzheimer’s.

Prior imaging approaches have largely painted a broad picture of brain tissue losses or reduced metabolism in people with the disease. Mecca, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale, said these new images show the “distribution of synaptic damage,” which goes beyond the typical areas surrounding the hippocampus.

“These methods will allow us to examine synaptic loss at still earlier stages of disease—when people have evidence of Alzheimer’s pathogenesis but have not yet manifested symptoms,” added senior author Christopher van Dyck, professor of psychiatry, neurology, and neuroscience at Yale.