The new research, published yesterday in the journal Current Biology and carried out at the universities of St Andrews and Edinburgh, focused on one of the first brain areas to show changes in Alzheimer’s – the lateral entorhinal cortex (LEC).
The LEC is made up of layers of cells which form complex networks of connections with other brain regions and contains sub-systems that have different memory functions.
The research team, led by Dr Brianna Vandrey, now of Edinburgh University, found that when a particular connection between one of the layers of the LEC and the hippocampus malfunctions, episodic memory is affected while simpler forms of memory remain unaffected.
Dr James Ainge of the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of St Andrews said: “This research is important as it gives us a very specific target when developing treatments and strategies to prevent neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease.”
In order to understand the early stages of Alzheimer’s and develop treatments that can prevent degeneration within the brain, it is important to study how damage to the brain can result in episodic memory deficits.
Alzheimer’s disease is the commonest form of dementia with more than 520,000 people in the UK suffering from the disorder. The figure is predicted to rise to more than one million by 2025. There is currently no cure.
In Scotland, over 90,000 people have dementia. It is most common in older people but can affect people in their 40s and 50s or even younger
Age is the only known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Most people who have it are over 70 years old.
Alzheimer’s disease gradually destroys brain cells and their connections. This affects how the person copes with everyday tasks. Each person will be affected differently and it isn’t possible to predict which symptoms they will develop. But with the right help and support, people with Alzheimer’s disease can enjoy a good quality of life for many years.
Scottish Conservatives health spokesperson, Miles Briggs said: “The number of people being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is projected to increase dramatically over the next 20 years. This is an incredibly important piece of research and is another example of world leading research being carried out in Scotland.”