Could the eye be the window to Alzheimer’s?

Could the eye be the window to Alzheimer’s?

Elevated levels of amyloid beta, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s, have been found in the eyes of animal models in the early stages of the disease.

Close-up of a human eye

The result was one finding from two recent comprehensive studies looking at the effects of amyloid beta in cell and mice models of Alzheimer’s, conducted by the Australian Proteome Analysis Facility’s (APAF) Scientific Director Dr Mehdi Mirzaei and his team in collaboration with Dr Vivek Gupta and other researchers from Macquarie’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Alzheimer’s disease affects an estimated 45 million people worldwide, and there is currently no simple diagnostic test to determine whether a person has the disease.

Recent research has suggested that Alzheimer’s also affects your eyes, although the exact details of how it affects the eyes are unclear.

“These studies demonstrate for the first time that amyloid beta is elevated in the eyes, specifically photoreceptor cells in the retina, even in the early stages of the disease,” says Mehdi.

Such changes in the eyes could be used as an early marker of Alzheimer’s disease, he says.

The studies also provided insights into the molecular changes that occur in the retina as the amyloid beta accumulates.

“Such data can be used to better understand the mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Mehdi, “and may highlight new targets for drug development, as well as better ways to diagnose and monitor the progression of the disease.”

These studies are a step towards identifying changes in the retina that could lead to a specific Alzheimer’s disease biomarker in humans.

Retinal screening holds the promise of being able to detect such markers more cheaply than brain imaging, and before the disease progresses to an advanced stage.

Read the papers: Molecular Neurobiology paper; Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience paper.

Photo by Marc Schulte.

Published 18 April 2019.

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