Current Alzheimer's Disease (AD) research indicates that accumulation of amyloid-beta (Aβ) protein plaques in the brain is central to the development of AD. Unfortunately, presence of these plaques is typically confirmed only at autopsy. In a special issue of the journal Behavioral Neurology, researchers review the evidence that positron emission tomography (PET) can image these plaques during life. This exciting new technique provides researchers with an opportunity to test the amyloid hypothesis as it occurs in living patients.
In a review article with over 100 references, Dr. Gil Babinovici and Dr. William Jagust from the University of California, San Francisco and Berkeley, summarize the results of experiments from their laboratories and others using the Aβ tracer Pittsburgh Compound-B (PIB). This compound binds to Aβ protein and allows the mapping of plaques in the brains of AD and non-AD volunteer subjects.
They report that PIB-PET can detect Aβ deposits in a significant proportion of cognitively normal older subjects and that these deposits and that these deposits are associated with brain atrophy even in the absence of cognitive symptoms.