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Decreased metabolism in ageing brain causes memory problems

08 November 2013

A failing memory corresponds with important changes in the metabolism of the ageing brain. This is the conclusion of researchers working at the Neuroimaging Center of the UMCG and the University of Groningen. Their research has been published in the leading scientific journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews . The researchers calculated the differences between elderly people with mild memory problems and healthy elderly people by combining results from 29 previous studies. The studies concerned were based on MR spectroscopy, a technique that measures the concentration of substances involved in metabolism in the brain, known as metabolites.

One of the metabolites found to be in short supply in elderly people with mild memory problems is N-acetylaspartic (NAA), a substance that is normally present in healthy brain cells. This would seem to indicate damage to the brain cells. The researchers also discovered a sharper decrease in acetylcholine (an important neurotransmitter) in the brains of elderly people with memory problems. Acetylcholine plays a major role in learning and memory, as well as in controlling the muscles. Earlier research has shown that patients with Alzheimer’s disease have a significant lack of this substance.

Alzheimer’s disease

To find out more about the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers, led by Prof. André Aleman (author of Het Seniorenbrein) and Prof. Peter Paul De Deyn, recently started a large-scale new study looking into mild memory problems. Their research focuses on the degree to which a simultaneous drop in motivation and initiative could predict the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Volunteers aged between 60 and 80 years of age can register for this study. They must be entirely healthy or have mild memory problems, with or without a drop in motivation or lack of initiative. The study involves making an MRI scan and taking a number of neuropsychological tests. A follow-up study with more neuropsychological tests will be carried out three years later.

Anyone interested and requiring more information should contact the researchers, Ms H. Goldhoorn, tel: +31 (0)50 361 14 85, e-mail: h.goldhoorn or Ms F. Reesink, e-mail: f.e.reesink .

Last modified:13 March 2020 02.14 a.m.
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