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01 February 2018, 12:34 | Nichole Osborne
GETTY Images Dementia symptoms About 850,000 people have dementia in the UK
"Easily and cheaply measured blood plasma-derived biomarkers that aid diagnosis, stratification or prediction of outcome in individuals suspected of having early signs of disease represent a "Holy Grail" of Alzheimer'sresearch", he said.
Do you often have daytime naps or wake up frequently at night?
The study followed 189 adults, with an average age of 66, and tested for the presence of amyloid proteins using positron emission tomography (PET) scans and cerebrospinal fluid testing.
"It wasn't that the people in the study were sleep-deprived", lead study author Dr. Erik Musiek said in a press release. This disruption resulted in amyloid plaque that began to swiftly accumulate in the hippocampus of the brain, a key structure responsible for memory and learning capacity.
One method is to look for a toxic protein - called amyloid beta - that builds up in the brain during the disease.
Previous studies at Washington University, conducted in people and in animals, have found that levels of amyloid fluctuate in predictable ways during the day and night.
Now levels of the peptide can only be measured in living patients using costly brain scans or highly invasive tests of cerebrospinal fluid.
For decades scientists worldwide have tried to develop blood tests to predict Alzheimer's in the hope of replacing the expensive and often invasive brain scans and lumbar punctures now used to diagnose the most common form of dementia.
Disruptions in the sleep/wake cycle prevailed even after the researchers statistically controlled for sleep apnea, age and other factors.
The study subjects, from Washington University's Knight Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, all wore devices similar to exercise trackers for one to two weeks. As well as completing a detailed sleep diary, the subjects all wore tracking devices created to record movements day and night.
By tracking activity during the day and night, the researchers could tell how scattered rest and activity were throughout 24-hour periods.
Participants who experience short periods of activity and rest during the day and night were likely to develop amyloid plaques in their brains. The study concluded by suggesting that the circadian rhythm abnormalities accelerated the amyloid plaque accumulation in the rodent's brains.
These findings in people reinforce the mouse research from Musiek's lab. In the study, the rodent participants' normal circadian rhythms were turned upside down by a concoction of drugs and genetic engineering.
The big question that remains is whether bad sleep causes the protein buildup that's linked to Alzheimer's, or whether people whose brains are already changing have more trouble sleeping. "It's the first data demonstrating that the disruption of circadian rhythms could be accelerating the deposition of plaques".
A simple blood test that identifies people at risk of Alzheimer's could become a reality after the discovery of new telltale biomarkers. This new study provides more evidence of that link, and indicates that sleep disruption might be a very early warning sign of future neurodegenerative disease.
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