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Abnormal Abeta - Protein Level in Human Brain Trigger Alzheimer's Risk

ave been available for some time but only through recent technical and procedural advances has become sufficiently sensitive. Via an intravenous drip, scientists give test subjects a form of the amino acid leucine that has been very slightly altered to label it. Inside the leucine are carbon atoms with 13 neutrons and protons in their nucleus instead of the more common 12 neutrons and protons--in scientific parlance, carbon 13 instead of carbon 12.

'Normally only about 1.1 percent of the carbon atoms in our bodies are carbon 13--the vast majority is carbon 12,' Bateman notes. 'Physiologically and biochemically, carbon 13 acts just like carbon 12, meaning it won't alter the normal Abeta production and clearance processes and is very safe to use.'

Over the course of hours, cells in the brain pick up the labeled leucine and incorporate it into the new copies they make of Abeta and other proteins. Scientists take periodic samples of the subjects' cerebrospinal fluid through a lumbar catheter, purify the Abeta from the samples and then use a device known as a mass spectrometer to determine how much of the Abeta includes carbon-13-labeled leucine.

Tracking the rise of the percentage of Abeta with labeled leucine over time gives scientists the subject's Abeta production rate. When the percentage of Abeta containing labeled leucine plateaus, scientists remove the IV drip supplying the labeled leucine. Periodic sampling of the patients' CSF continues, allowing scientists to get a measurement of how quickly the nervous system clears out the labeled Abeta. In the first test subjects, the test procedure lasted for 36 hours.

Other research groups have expressed an interest in applying the new test to Alzheimer's research and to other neurological disorders such as Huntington's disease.

(Source: Eurekalert)
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