Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch have found a link between inflammation, a toxic form of tau protein and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Brain cells depend on tau protein to absorb nutrients and eliminate waste. But in certain neurodegenerative disorders, like Alzheimer’s, this protein turns into a toxic form called tau oligomers, which stops the absorption of nutrients and eventually leads to brain cell death. These oligomers may also be responsible for the inflammation that plays such an important role in the development and progression of Alzheimer’s.
Researchers found that the retina tissue they studied can show evidence of toxic tau and inflammation—this means early signs of Alzheimer’s could be detected during a routine eye examination.
“Early detection of Alzheimer’s warning signs would allow for early intervention and prevention of neurodegeneration before major brain cell loss and cognitive decline occurs,” said lead author and neuroscience graduate student, Ashley Nilson. “Using the retina for detecting AD and other neurodegenerative diseases would be non-invasive, inexpensive and could become a part of a normal screening during patient check-ups.”