HealthDay News  — It’s long been known that people with Down syndrome are at higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Now, research suggests that changes in the brains of people with Down syndrome, as seen on brain scans, might help lead to promising treatments that could delay or prevent Alzheimer’s.

The study, published online recently in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, involved five people with Down syndrome who had already developed symptoms of Alzheimer’s, 12 people with Down syndrome who had no symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and nine “control” participants who did not have Down syndrome or Alzheimer’s disease.

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The investigators used brain-imaging technology, known as PET scans, to look for signs of beta-amyloid accumulation and patterns of reduced brain activity associated with Alzheimer’s. The researchers also used MRI scans to measure the volume of “gray matter” in the study participants’ brains.

The study found that the people with Down syndrome who also had Alzheimer’s symptoms had much greater buildup of beta-amyloid, less activity in parts of the brain known to be affected by Alzheimer’s, and smaller gray matter volumes than people from the other two groups.

Moreover, the people with Down syndrome who didn’t yet develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s had more amyloid protein than the control group, the findings showed.

“The number of people with Down syndrome who go on to Alzheimer’s symptoms has tripled in the last 20 years,” said the study’s lead researcher, Marwan Sabbagh, MD, director of Banner Sun Health Research Institute in Sun City, Ariz. “There is a growing need to find interventions to treat and prevent Alzheimer’s in these individuals, and there is an opportunity to do so in a way that could help find effective Alzheimer’s prevention therapies for everyone.”

The researchers believe that the buildup of this protein begins early on, before memory and thinking problems develop. The authors suggested that the findings could help researchers design new prevention trials among people with Down syndrome.


Sabbagh MN, et al. Florbetapir PET, FDG PET, and MRI in Down syndrome individuals with and without Alzheimer’s dementia. Alzheimers Dement. 2015; doi:10.1016/j.jalz.2015.01.006.