Alzheimer’s Research Identifies Four Disease Subgroups
New Alzheimer’s research may help in the treatment and understanding of the disease.
For decades, Alzheimer’s research has focused on examining the advancement of the disease through one basic model, despite the fact that the symptoms and progression of Alzheimer's can vary from person to person.
However now, a large, collaborative new study between Canada, Korea, Sweden, and the United States is uncovering some fascinating data to help us better understand and treat Alzheimer’s disease. Rather than one universal, dominant diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, researchers have discovered that there are four different variants that occur in as many as 18 – 30% of cases. This shift in thinking is helping researchers more fully understand the variations in the disease from one person to another.
The findings are also significant in that they’re allowing specialists to begin to individualize treatment plans based on the particular subgroup diagnosed.
The researchers analyzed data from more than 1,600 men and women, identifying over 1,100 who were either in various stages of Alzheimer's disease or who were not cognitively impaired at all. Following these participants over a two-year period allowed researchers to funnel every person who presented tau abnormalities into four distinct sub-groups:
Subgroup 1: Occurring in up to one in three diagnoses, this variant involves the spreading of tau within the temporal lobe. The predominant impact is on memory.
Subgroup 2: Impacting the cerebral cortex, the second variant has less of an effect on memory and more on executive functioning, such as carrying out actions or planning activities. It impacts about one in five individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
Subgroup 3: In this variant, the visual cortex is impacted, affecting an individual's orientation to self, ability to distinguish distance, shapes, contours, movement, and an object’s location in relation to other objects. As with the first variant, it occurs in about one out of three diagnoses.
Subgroup 4: This variant represents an asymmetrical spreading of tau within the left hemisphere of the brain, causing the largest impact on language and occurring in about one out of five cases of Alzheimer’s.
Oskar Hansson, professor of neurology at Lund University and supervisor of the study, explains next steps: “…we need a longer follow-up study over five to ten years to be able to confirm the four patterns with even greater accuracy.”
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