Older people with higher amounts of the protein, known as BDNF, in their brains were shown to have a slower decline in their memory and thinking abilities than people with lower amounts of it, shows a study published today (Wednesday 27 January) in the online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
The rate of cognitive decline was 50% slower for those with the highest 10% concentration of protein compared to those with the lowest 10%. The effect of plaques and tangles in the brain on cognitive decline was reduced for people with high levels of BDNF.
The study involved 535 people with an average age of 81 who were followed until death, for an average of six years. They took yearly tests of their thinking and memory skills, and after death, a neurologist reviewed their records and determined whether they had dementia, memory and thinking problems, or no thinking and memory problems. Autopsies were conducted on their brains after death to measure the amount of protein present.
Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We already know that this particular protein, BDNF, promotes the growth of new brain cells and is produced in areas of the brain responsible for memory and learning. The study suggests a link between a higher production of this protein and slower mental decline.”
“This is very early stage research. It’s not possible to say if the protein is the cause of the improved thinking and memory or an effect of it. If developed further, this research could help us to understand why Alzheimer’s disease progresses at different rates in people. In turn, better understanding of this could shed light on ways to make the brain more resilient against the damage caused by the disease.”