Magazine article Science News

New Lesion Found in Alzheimer Brains

Magazine article Science News

New Lesion Found in Alzheimer Brains

Article excerpt

In 1906, Alois Alzheimer stood before psychiatrists in Germany and described his studies of a 51-year-old woman who would make his name tragically famous. The woman had had severe memory problems before her death, and when Alzheimer autopsied her brain, he found it riddled with two kinds of lesions: plaques, which are extracellular deposits of a protein fragment now called beta-amyloid, and tangles, intracellular clumps of a protein now known as tau.

These plaques and tangles, observable only in autopsies, currently serve as the only definitive diagnostic markers for Alzheimer's disease, the memory-robbing neurodegenerative disease that afflicts millions of elderly people.

A research group, however, now suggests that Alzheimer missed an equally common brain lesion, as have thousands of scientists since who have examined the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.

In addition to plaques and tangles, the brains of Alzheimer's patients contain extensive extracellular deposits of a still unnamed protein, Marie L. Schmidt of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia and her colleagues report in the July America Journal of Pathology.

In shape and size, the new lesions, labeled AMY plaques, often resemble the disease's characteristic amyloid plaques, and they almost never appear in brains devoid of the amyloid plaques.

"When you find amyloid, you seem to find AMY nearby," says study coauthor Virginia M.-Y. Lee. Yet the new lesions are distinct from the amyloid plaques, rarely overlapping in the brain, the investigators report. …

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