Scientists are already struggling to make headway in the fight against dementia, and the discovery of a new more aggressive form of neurodegeneration that’s often misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease further complicates the problem.
A new study from the University of Kentucky has described a novel form of dementia characterized by the toxic accumulation of four different proteins in the brain. The research suggests many patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease may be suffering from this different, and more complex, neurodegenerative condition.
Alzheimer’s disease is generally defined by a damaging build-up of two kinds of proteins in the brain: amyloid-beta into plaques, and tau into neurofibrillary tangles. Almost every treatment developed in recent years to try and halt, or reverse, the accumulation of these toxic proteins has failed in human trials, and many researchers have looked to novel hypotheses to try and better understand the origins of Alzheimer’s.
Last year a landmark study described a novel form of dementia based on the abnormal aggregation of a protein called TDP-43. The disease was named limbic-predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy, or LATE, and the researchers suggested about 20 percent of Alzheimer’s cases may actually be misdiagnosed LATE cases.
“One of the things that we’ve learned in the last decade or so is that a lot of people that we think have dementia from Alzheimer’s disease, actually don’t,” explains Eric Abner, one of the lead researchers on the new University of Kentucky study. “There are other brain diseases that cause the same kind of symptoms as Alzheimer’s, including some that we only recently figured out existed.”