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2014 Grants - Vazquez
Physiological Basis of Brain Connectivity Reductions in Alzheimer’s Disease
Alberto Vazquez, Ph.D.
University of Pittsburgh
2014 Mentored New Investigator Research Grant to Increase Diversity
A major goal of Alzheimer’s research is to identify ways to detect evidence of the disease in its earliest stages, when it may be possible to find ways to slow or prevent brain changes associated with the disease. Interventions seeking to modify the progression of Alzheimer’s disease may be successful if implemented before extensive and irreversible brain changes have occurred. Brain imaging is being extensively studied as a way to detect early stages of the disease.
A relatively new type of brain imaging is a modified version of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) known as functional connectivity MRI (fcMRI). This novel technique allows researchers to non-invasively measure changes in the activity and connections between specific brain regions, referred to as brain connectivity. Recent studies using fcMRI suggest that connectivity among different regions of the brain — which is essential for proper brain function — may be impaired in early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. However, the results are difficult to interpret because they may be complicated by changes in blood flow in the same regions of the brain.
Alberto Vazquez, Ph.D., and colleagues have developed a method that allows them to determine whether brain changes observed on fcMRI images are caused by changes in the connectivity between nerve cells or by changes in patterns of blood flow in the brain. They have proposed a series of experiments using this method to study whether early stages of the disease are associated with changes in nerve cell connectivity in mice that have been genetically altered to have an Alzheimer’s-like condition. They will also determine if changes observed in nerve cell connectivity in the Alzheimer’s-like mice relate to their brain levels of amyloid plaques, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. These studies will advance the development of fcMRI as a possible diagnostic tool for the early detection of brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease in humans.