Research aims to bring clearer view of synapse loss in Alzheimer's disease

Dr. Barbara Bendlin

Barbara Bendlin, PhD (pictured above), associate professor, Geriatrics and Gerontology, Bradley Christian, PhD, professor, Department of Medical Physics, and Sterling Johnson, PhD, professor, Geriatrics and Gerontology, have been awarded $3.7M over 5 years (R01 award) from the National Institutes of Health-National Institute on Aging for a proposal entitled, "SV2A PET imaging in Alzheimer's Disease." 

The research focuses on visualizing how connections between brain cells change throughout the course of Alzheimer's disease progression. 

To function correctly, synapses (the junctions between two nerve cells, including neurons in the brain) relay information via diffusion of substances called neurotransmitters. 

"Synaptic loss is a major feature of symptomatic Alzheimer's disease...and is expected to be the most closely associated with cognitive decline, but no large human studies have yet been undertaken to examine regional synapse loss across the spectrum of AD," write the investigators.   

The study will investigate the use of new positron emission tomography (PET) radioligands that bind to synaptic vesicle glycoprotein 2A (SV2A), a synaptic vesicle protein found in presynaptic nerve terminals throughout the brain. Researchers are using the SV2A radioligands as a sensitive tool to visualize patterns of synapses in the brains of people without Alzheimer's disease, people at risk of disease but who are cognitively unaffected, and people with the disease who have a range of symptoms. 

Scientists hope to evaluate whether the technique can serve as a sensitive marker of neurodegeneration to better understand synapse loss across the clinical and pathological spectrum of Alzheimer's disease.

"This program of research is expected to improve early detection of AD, improve prediction of cognitive decline, and inform the development of new treatment strategies," write the investigators.