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Center for BrainHealth Advances Technique to Distinguish Brain Energy Molecules

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Center for BrainHealth

Research team is the first to use magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) at 7-tesla to differentiate energy molecules in the brains of patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment. Researchers at Center for BrainHealth®, part of The University of Texas at Dallas, recently examined how cells in the brains of people at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease make and use energy. Relationships between the brain’s energy metabolism and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease have been reported previously. But this is the first study to clearly distinguish different energy molecules in the brain using high-powered imaging called magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) at 7-tesla. The findings from this study could help the development of tests for the earlier detection and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The study was published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience (August 2020) by Center for BrainHealth researchers Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, chief director; Namrata Das, MD, MPH, a research neuroscientist in Alzheimer’s Disease and the study’s lead author; Jeffrey Spence, PhD, director of biostatistics; Audette Rackley, head of special programs; and Jimin Ren, PhD, a researcher at UT-Southwestern Medical Center. This imaging technique allows scientists to look at how the human brain makes and uses energy at the cellular level. Other techniques are invasive, which is why until now most research on the brain’s energy metabolism has been conducted in deceased patients or in model organisms like mice. “The biggest finding is that the peaks from the MRS scan could be separated to look at the brain’s energy. It’s almost like seeing a heartbeat for the first time,” said Chapman. The findings add a methodology for studying the early pathological biomarkers for Alzheimer's disease in patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment, a condition that sometimes leads to the development of the disease. Participants with higher brain energy metabolisms in their parieto-occipital lobes had poorer memory and attention skills. Energy use and production are the core of all cells’ biological mechanism, especially in the brain due to its high energy requirements. The brain's extraordinary energy requirements may lead to the dangerous buildup of beta-amyloid and tau proteins seen in patients with Alzheimer's disease. “We want to look at how the brain energy metabolism differs between healthy participants, participants with amnestic mild cognitive impairment, and those with Alzheimer's disease,” said Dr. Das. “Later on, we want to understand if energy abnormalities upstream trigger or aggravate the amyloid, tau, and glucose metabolism abnormalities in the brain.” The earlier that Alzheimer’s disease is detected and treated, the better the patients’ outcomes. This study was funded by Aging Mind Foundation, BvB Dallas, Sammons Enterprises, Barbara Wallace and Kelly King Charitable Foundation Trust, the AWARE fund of the Dallas Foundation, and the Golden Rule Family Foundation. CONTACT Stephanie Hoefken 972.883.3221 stephanie.hoefken@utdallas.eduABOUT CENTER FOR BRAINHEALTH Center for BrainHealth®, part of The University of Texas at Dallas, is a translational research institute committed to enhancing, preserving, and restoring brain health across the lifespan. Major research areas include the use of functional and structural neuroimaging techniques to better understand the neurobiology supporting cognition and emotion in health and disease. This leading-edge scientific exploration is translated quickly into practical innovations to improve how people think, work and live, empowering people of all ages to unlock their brain potential. Translational innovations build on Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Tactics (SMART™), a proprietary methodology developed and tested by BrainHealth researchers and other teams over three decades.

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Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD

Chief Director Dee Wyly Distinguished Professor, School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences Co-Leader, The BrainHealth Project

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Sammons BrainHealth Imaging Center

Located at Center for BrainHealth, the Sammons BrainHealth Imaging Center is a one-of-a-kind facility completely focused on human brain imaging to measure changes in brain health and function. The design and field strength are optimized for functional MRI (fMRI), providing crisp anatomical detail and a signal-to-noise ratio that reduces distortion to facilitate the acquisition and interpretation of data.