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2016 Grants - Papp
Optimizing Semantic Memory Measures to Tau PET Deposition in Preclinical Alzheimer’s Disease
Kathryn Papp, Ph.D.
Brigham and Women's Hospital
2016 Alzheimer’s Association Clinical Fellowship (AACF)
Can a novel memory test help detect the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease?
Research suggests that Alzheimer’s has an extended “preclinical” phase in which brain changes including the accumulation of beta-amyloid and abnormal tau protein are occurring, but clinical symptoms are not yet evident. Novel cognitive tests that can detect and track the earliest changes in memory are needed to help predict risk and measure the effectiveness of treatments.
Standard diagnostic tests for dementia commonly evaluate changes in “episodic memory” which is memory for experiences and events across time. Other types of memory may also decline but have not been as well studied. Recent studies by Kathryn Papp, Ph.D., and colleagues found that healthy older adults with elevated beta-amyloid in their brains experienced declines in “semantic memory” which includes memory for facts, words and general knowledge. It is not yet clear if declines in semantic memory are a normal part of aging or an early indication of Alzheimer’s disease.
For their current work Dr. Papp and colleagues will conduct a larger study to determine how semantic memory loss may be linked to the accumulation of beta-amyloid and abnormal tau protein in the brain. This project will involve 250 older adult participants from a large, long-term study known as the Harvard Aging Brain Study. The researchers have developed a novel and challenging semantic memory test that they predict will be sensitive enough to detect differences between normal aging and early Alzheimer’s disease. Participants will also have positron emission tomography (PET) brain scans to determine the location and level of beta-amyloid and tau accumulation in the brain.
Results from Dr. Papp’s effort could shed new light on how specific declines in memory may be linked to brain changes associated with early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. If successful, this study could identify semantic memory tests as a novel tool for detecting and diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease.