Why Some People with Alzheimer’s Hallmarks Never Develop the Dementia

Synapse of the Brain (NIA)

Studies Showed that the Hallmark Proteins of Alzheimer’s Did not Grow in the Synapses

Neuroscientists have been intrigued by research that discovered people with classical Alzheimer’s hallmarks of beta amyloid protein plaques and tangles made up of tau protein in their brains who never developed Alzheimer’s disease. These are called Non-Demented with Alzheimer’s Neuropathology (NDAN). Researchers discovered that for some reason these toxic proteins did not grow in the synapses of their brains. Synapses are the spaces between neurons (nerve cells) and if these become damaged or blocked up, communication is disrupted between the neurons, which leads to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Researchers set out to try to discover why these people never developed Alzheimer’s and what protected the synapses in their brains.

Unique Protein Signature Protected People with Hallmarks of Alzheimer’s

Results of a study were published August 21, 2018, in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease by researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The researchers evaluated three groups to try to discover the reason the synapses of people who had plaques and tangles in their brains were protected from invasion by the toxic proteins that would have led to Alzheimer’s disease.

The Three Groups

  1. One group had Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
  2. The second group was the Non-Demented with Alzheimer’s Neuropathology (NDAN), who had tau tangles and amyloid plaques, but did not have dementia.
  3. The third group was made up of healthy people who had no Alzheimer’s disease or hallmarks of Alzheimer’s.

High-throughput Electrophoresis and Mass Spectrometry

The researchers used very special high-throughput electrophoresis and mass spectrometry to evaluate the protein makeup of synapses isolated from frozen brain tissue. These samples were from the Oregon Brain Bank at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in Portland, Oregon of people who had participated in brain aging studies. While they had been alive they had received yearly neurological and neuropsychological evaluations. The researchers discovered that those NDAN individuals whose synapses were protected and who never developed Alzheimer’s had a protein signature of 15 unique proteins that was different from those who had Alzheimer’s (AD) and those who did not have Alzheimer’s.

More Research is Necessary

More research is necessary to try to determine what is the source of the protective factor of the 15 unique proteins that keeps some people with classical Alzheimer’s characteristics from developing the disease and its terrible dementia. Hopefully, further research will lead to an effective treatment or way of preventing or delaying the progress of Alzheimer’s disease.

More Accurate Methods to Diagnose Alzheimer’s are Needed

Also, this study shows that the presence of beta amyloid plaques and tau tangles on MRI and PET scans are not conclusive proof that someone has Alzheimer’s. As it is, these expensive scans are usually only carried out on people who already show the memory loss and cognitive decline associated with dementia. This also leads one to wonder how many more people “out there” are also NDAN.

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)

Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that is the most commonly found dementia. More than five and a half million Americans and 50 million people worldwide are afflicted with it. It causes considerable memory loss and cognitive decline, psychiatric behavior problems, a loss of the ability to reason and eventually an inability to carry out day-to-day tasks. In time, the memory loss may reach the point where Alzheimer’s patients can no longer recognize family members or even remember who they are. Alzheimer’s puts  a tremendous emotional and financial burden on the families of people afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. Most Alzheimer’s patients are cared for by voluntary caregivers who are usually family members. Many of these caregivers are also aging spouses with their own health problems. Most people who get Alzheimer’s are over 65, but there are also early onset cases that strike people in their 30s to 50s. It is believed that genes are the main reason for most early onset cases.

The Need for Long-term Skilled Nursing and Memory Care

Eventually, the person with Alzheimer’s may need to be cared for in a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility. The best ones are those that have a special unique memory care or impaired memory care unit like the Royal Suites Healthcare and Rehabilitation in Galloway Township, New Jersey that has a state-of-the-art Memory Impaired Care Unit. To read more about memory care at Royal Suites please see our blog post from May 29, 2018.


It is good news that not all people with classical Alzheimer’s hall marks develop the disease and we can only hope that research will uncover what this protective factor is that hopefully will lead to better detection, treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

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