Body clock disruptions occur years before memory loss in Alzheimer's

Dementia symptoms Alzheimers risk treatment sleep

Previous studies at Washington University, conducted in people and in animals, have found that levels of amyloid fluctuate in predictable ways during the day and night.

Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, which includes inability to create new memories and forgetfulness, usually do not appear until after the age of 60, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, the earliest clear signs of Alzheimer's disease - those plaque deposits - can only be detected with sophisticated brain imaging.

As part of the "Brain Power" series on TODAY, special anchor Maria Shriver talked to Gates about his mission to solve the medical mystery of the chronic neurodegenerative disease, which causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills.

In the research published Monday, 189 participants had an average age of close to 67 years when they enrolled in the study between 2010 and 2012. "I always tell my patients not to use electronic devices at night, to sleep in a dark room - and to go to sleep, not watch TV in bed".

Pre-clinical features of Alzheimer's were assessed by positron emission tomography (PET) scans which showed the presence amyloid plaques in their brains, or cerebrospinal fluid sampling, which was analyzed for Alzheimer's-related proteins. A third group had both.

In other words, people who experienced short spurts of activity and rest during the day and night were more likely to have evidence of amyloid build-up in their brains.

It suggested they had the neuron-killing protein clumps.

The 139 others had no evidence of the amyloid protein that signifies pre-clinical Alzheimer's.

Poor functioning of small organelles known as mitochondria - the powerhouses of cells - is an early event in Alzheimer's disease.

Following on from this work the Washington University team hopes to follow these human subjects over a longer span of time to see if Alzheimer's disease develops in those found to have disrupted sleep and early amyloid build up.

He added: "It's the first data demonstrating that the disruption of circadian rhythms could be accelerating the deposition of plaques". Amyloid levels decrease during sleep, and several studies have shown that levels increase when sleep is disrupted or when people don't get enough deep sleep, according to research by senior author, Yo-El Ju, MD.

However, the current study isn't just about lack of sleep, it's about how people sleep. But their sleep tended to be fragmented, ' said researcher Dr Erik Musiek of Washington University.

"More and more people are getting Alzheimer's, and it's a tragic disease", said Gates, who recently invested $100 million into Alzheimer's research, with $50 million going to Dementia Discovery Fund, which looks for new cures and treatments.

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