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2014 Grants - McGough
Neural Imaging and Function in Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease
Ellen McGough, P.T., Ph.D.
University of Washington
2014 New Investigator Research Grant
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disorder. As the disease advances, people experience increased impairments in mobility. Older adults with late-stage Alzheimer’s are at a higher risk for fall-related injuries, which frequently results in admission to the hospital or nursing home. Moreover, people in the earlier stages of the disease can experience mobility problems before the onset of memory loss or other cognitive symptoms. Scientists do not know exactly how brain changes affect mobility function, but damage to a specific area of the brain, called the medial temporal lobe region, may be involved. This region includes a smaller area called the hippocampus, which is vital to learning and memory and is especially vulnerable in early Alzheimer’s disease.
Ellen McGough, P.T., Ph.D., and colleagues hypothesize that mobility decline in early Alzheimer’s might be affected by such mechanisms as (1) the loss of communication between brain cells in different regions of the medial temporal lobe and (2) the death of hippocampal cells that control one’s ability to navigate in a three-dimensional environment. To address this hypothesis, researchers will study individuals with early Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition that often precedes Alzheimer’s. First, the researchers will use various performance-based tests to measure physical function and mobility. They will search for links between these mobility impairments and certain changes in brain structure and function — as determined by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H MRS) brain scans. These studies will provide information on the potential brain regions that contribute to changes in physical performance in individuals with MCI or Alzheimer’s disease. The results of this effort could lead to novel, mobility-related tests for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease at its earliest stages and contribute to the development of therapies aimed at reducing physical decline for individuals along the Alzheimer’s disease spectrum.