Some theories about Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, suggest that it starts developing independently in different regions of the brain. Others which say that abnormal tau protein which fuels the growth of Alzheimer’s disease begins in one region and spreads throughout the brain, have now received support from a new study conducted by a team at the Columbia University Medical Center.

The results of this analysis suggest that tau protein abnormalities which lead to neurofibrillary tangles start developing in one part of the brain, further propagating to all over through the medium of neurons. Postmortem investigations of the human brain as well as neuroimaging studies have also shown that the tangles commence development in the cortex which is responsible for memory, gradually moving to other anatomically higher brain regions.

“If, as our data suggest, tau pathology starts in the entorhinal cortex and emanates from there, the most effective approach may be to treat Alzheimer’s the way we treat cancer—through early detection and treatment, before it has a chance to spread. The best way to cure Alzheimer’s may be to identify and treat it when it is just beginning, to halt progression. It is during this early stage that the disease will be most amenable to treatment. That is the exciting clinical promise down the road,” conveyed Dr. Scott A. Small, MD, professor of neurology in the Sergievsky Center and in the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s disease and the Aging Brain at CUMC.

For the purpose of this study, scientists developed transgenic mice with the abnormal human tau gene primarily expressed in the entorhinal cortex area. As these subjects aged over a span of 22 months, the tangles were discovered to have propagated from the original location to the hippocampus and then the neocortex.

The findings of this study have been published in the online journal, PLoS One.