From Iowa State University:

IMAGE: Auriel Willette used data from brain scans and memory tests to track the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. view more

Credit: Blake Lanser, Iowa State University

AMES, Iowa – Iowa State University researchers have identified a protein essential for building memories that appears to predict the progression of memory loss and brain atrophy in Alzheimer’s patients.

Auriel Willette, an assistant professor of food science and human nutrition; and Ashley Swanson, a graduate research assistant, say the findings also suggest there is a link between brain activity and the presence of the protein neuronal pentraxin-2, or NPTX2. The research, published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, found a correlation between higher levels of NPTX2 and better memory and more brain volume. Lower levels of the protein were associated with diminished memory and less volume.

“NPTX2 seems to exert a protective effect,” Swanson said. “The more you have, the less brain atrophy and better memory you have over time.”

The discovery is encouraging as it offers an avenue to track the progression of Alzheimer’s disease over time, but it also generates a lot of questions. Researchers want to know how best to boost NPTX2 levels and if there is an added benefit. They were struck by a trend in the data that points to a possible answer. Study participants with more years of education showed higher levels of the protein. Willette says people with complex jobs or who stay mentally and socially active could see similar benefits, supporting the notion of “use it or lose it.”

“You’re keeping the machinery going,” Willette said. “It makes sense that the more time spent intensely focused on learning, the more your brain is trained to process information and that doesn’t go away. That intense kind of …

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