Home Medizin Eine beeinträchtigte räumliche Navigation weist auf ein frühes Alzheimer-Risiko hin

Eine beeinträchtigte räumliche Navigation weist auf ein frühes Alzheimer-Risiko hin

von NFI Redaktion

Recent research conducted by UCL researchers suggests that individuals at risk for Alzheimer’s disease show impaired spatial navigation before experiencing problems with other cognitive functions, including memory.

Published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, the study utilized virtual reality to test the spatial navigation of 100 asymptomatic middle-aged adults, aged 43 to 66, from the PREVENT-Dementia prospective cohort study.

Participants had a hereditary or physiological risk for Alzheimer’s disease, either due to a gene (the APOE-ε4 allele) that predisposes them to the disease, a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, or lifestyle risk factors such as low levels of physical activity. Importantly, these participants were approximately 25 years younger than their estimated age of dementia onset.

Led by Professor Dennis Chan, the study employed a test developed by Dr. Andrea Castegnaro and Professor Neil Burgess (all from UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience) where participants were asked to navigate in a virtual environment using VR headsets.

The researchers found that individuals at higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease, regardless of the risk factor, were selectively impaired in the VR navigation task without a corresponding impairment on other cognitive tests. The authors suggest that spatial navigation impairments could develop years or even decades before the onset of other symptoms.

Lead author Dr. Coco Newton (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience) stated, „Our results suggest that this type of navigation behavior change could represent the first diagnostic signal in the continuum of Alzheimer’s disease – as individuals transition from being unimpaired to manifesting the disease.“

The researchers also noted a strong gender-specific difference in participants‘ performance, with impairment observed in men but not in women.

Using these insights, we are now working to develop a diagnostic clinical decision support tool for the NHS in the coming years, which represents a completely new approach to diagnostics and will hopefully help people receive a timelier and more accurate diagnosis.

This is especially important given the rise of anti-amyloid treatments for Alzheimer’s, which are considered most effective in the early stages of the disease.

It also underscores the need for further investigation into the differential susceptibility of men and women to Alzheimer’s disease and the importance of considering gender in both diagnosis and future treatment.“

Dr. Coco Newton, Lead Author

Professor Chan stated, „We are excited about these findings for two main reasons. Firstly, they enhance the detection of the clinical onset of Alzheimer’s disease, which is crucial for the swift application of treatments.“

„Secondly, the VR navigation test is based on our understanding of the spatial properties of cells in the brain’s temporal lobe, and applying cellular neuroscience to clinical populations helps bridge the gap in understanding how diseases at the neural level may lead to the clinical outcome of the disease. This knowledge gap currently poses one of the biggest obstacles to progress in Alzheimer’s research.“

The research was conducted in collaboration with the University of Cambridge and funded jointly by the Alzheimer’s Society and an MSD research grant.

Dr. Richard Oakley, Deputy Director of Research and Innovation at the Alzheimer’s Society, commented, „One in three people born today will later develop dementia, and an early and accurate diagnosis of the diseases causing this condition is crucial for individuals to access the support, plan for the future, and receive appropriate treatment.

Very early symptoms of dementia can be subtle and difficult to detect, but navigation problems are believed to be some of the first changes in Alzheimer’s disease. This study, partially funded by the Alzheimer’s Society, utilized virtual reality technology to show that a healthy individual’s navigation skills are linked to their risk of dementia based on genetic and environmental factors.

While this innovative technology is still far from becoming a diagnostic test, it provides more evidence for the role of navigation skills as early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. More work is needed to develop this technology, but it will be exciting to see how this research might offer a way to detect disease-specific changes early and help individuals with dementia in the future.“


University College London

Journal Reference:

Newton, C., et al. (2024) Entorhinal-based path integration selectively predicts midlife Alzheimer’s disease risk. Alzheimer’s & Dementia. doi.org/10.1002/alz.13733.

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