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Irregularity in Brain Structures May Be Linked with Alzheimer’s

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By News release • • May 8, 2000

Vertical structures, called microcolumns, found in the cerebral cortex of normal brains, are disrupted in the brains of people affected by Alzheimer's disease, report Boston University scientists in the cover story of the May 9th issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

"These structures, normally found in the cerebral cortex -- the six-layered portion of the human brain that controls higher functions such as rational thought and speech -- may hold the key to understanding, and perhaps reversing, the ravages of this devastating disease," says H. Eugene Stanley, co-senior author and director of Boston University's Center for Polymer Studies.

The team of physicists, working on tissue samples supplied by Bradley Hyman, director of the Alzheimer's Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, developed a novel imaging technology based on statistical physics to visualize and analyze brain tissue. They compared the brains of subjects stricken with Alzheimer's disease (AD) and a related condition known as Lewy body dementia (LBD) with those from control subjects.

The new imaging technique revealed microcolumns -- chains of about 11 neurons linked together like the segments of a snake -- running perpendicularly through the levels, or laminae, of the cerebral cortex in normal subjects. "In LBD we saw practically no such microcolumns," says lead author Sergey Buldyrev, "and in AD the columns were much smaller and less pronounced than in the controls."

Microcolumns have been believed to play a role in brain function for some time, but this is the first time they have been quantified and compared in normal and diseased brains.

"We found that in AD and LBD disease the microcolumn organization is disrupted -- and this disruption may correlate with cognitive impairment," says Buldyrev. "This finding is consistent with the fact that in AD roughly half of the neurons are lost in the disease making it very likely that any organization in the brain would be lost as well. In LBD, however, only 10 percent or fewer of the neurons are lost -- and yet it still appears that there is a dramatic absence of microcolumns. This disruption of the microcolumnar organization is surprising and leads us to surmise that the loss of vertical organization is connected to the cognitive loss in these diseases."

Source: EurekAlert

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