Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Racial Differences Discovered in Alzheimer's Disease Proteins

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Racial Differences Discovered in Alzheimer's Disease Proteins

Article excerpt

Researchers have identified racial differences in a key biomarker used to identify Alzheimer's disease, leading to concerns that the disease may be under-recognized in African-Americans.

The findings from the small study at Washington University School of Medicine were published Monday in the medical journal JAMA Neurology.

The differences involve one of two proteins in the brain that are linked to Alzheimer's disease: amyloid beta and tau. The study showed that African-Americans had significantly lower levels of tau than Caucasians; but they were just as likely to be cognitively impaired.

Researchers analyzed data from 1,215 people, of whom 173 were African-American. The participants' average age was 71. One-third had mild dementia due to Alzheimer's, while the rest showed no signs of memory loss.

All the participants underwent at least one test for Alzheimer's: a PET scan to detect plaques of amyloid beta, an MRI scan for signs of brain shrinkage, or a spinal tap to measure amyloid and tau.

Analysis of the PET and MRI scans showed no significant differences between races; but samples of spinal fluid revealed African-Americans had significantly lower levels of tau, according to a news release from the university.

The lower levels of tau, however, did not protect African-Americans from having the same symptoms of brain damage, memory loss and confusion as Caucasians.

"With tau, the pattern was the same in African-Americans and whites -- the higher your tau level, the more likely you were cognitively impaired -- but the absolute amounts were consistently lower in African-Americans," Dr. John Morris, who leads the university's Charles F. and Joanne Knight Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, stated in the release.

The lower levels mean tools to diagnose Alzheimer's may not work as effectively for African-Americans. …

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