Biomarker may signal cognitive decline

Losing cognitive abilities is one of the most distressing symptoms of neurodegenerative disorders such as multiple sclerosis. Researchers from the NYU Langone Medical Center, publishing in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that blurring between the inner and outer layers of the brain could suggest early stages of brain degeneration, showing the beginning of cognitive decline.

The researchers used MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to scan 32 healthy adults, and then looked at the images, cross-checking them with the patients' results from verbal expression and verbal working memory tests. These showed strong links between poorer verbal skills and blurring of the boundary between an inner and outer region of the brain (the left hemisphere inferior frontal cortex and temporal pole). This blurring is a sign of faulty neuron development among the axons, and is usually seen in people with epilepsy and Alzheimer's disease. According to the researchers, this is the first time this has been seen in healthy brains.

"The findings are significant because this is the first time we have mapped the distinct relationship between blurring of the boundary in the left hemisphere, where verbal language skills are managed, and the impact that changes in this area have on cognitive ability," said Karen Blackmon, research assistant professor in the Department of Neurology and lead author of the study. "The fact that this occurs in healthy brains and appears to be connected with a person's cognitive function has significant implications for our ability to diagnose brain disease earlier and for the potential development of new therapies."

While this blurring is also seen in normal aging (think of those "senior moments"), using this imaging biomarker could help researchers map the ranges of "normal" and create a noninvasive diagnostic for early diagnosis of loss of cognition. It could also be useful as an indicator of drug efficacy in clinical trials.

- here's the release
- read the abstract

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