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An 'Eye' For Alzheimer's Disease

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Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disorder caused by the degeneration of cells neurons. It slowly destroys memory and eventually makes one unable to do even day-to-day tasks. Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

The fact that Alzheimer's disease (AD) starts to damage the brain years before the onset of initial symptoms makes the early detection crucial.

A new study done by researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine suggests that how quickly a person's pupil dilates while taking cognitive tests may reflect the increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.

The accumulation of Aß (amyloid ß-peptide) and tau proteins in the brain are considered to be the major pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer's. This accumulation is believed to cause progressive cognitive dysfunction.

The accumulation of Tau, the earliest occurring known biomarker for AD, is said to first appear in locus coeruleus, or LC in short, which is a cluster of neurons located in the brainstem. Locus coeruleus is responsible for pupil dilation and is also associated with cognitive function.

With the difficulty of the brain task, pupils get bigger. Earlier studies showed that people with mild cognitive impairment have greater pupil dilation while taking cognitive tests than normal individuals.

The study's first author William Kremen, said, "Given the evidence linking pupillary responses, LC and tau and the association between pupillary response and AD polygenic risk scores (an aggregate accounting of factors to determine an individual's inherited AD risk), these results are proof-of-concept that measuring pupillary response during cognitive tasks could be another screening tool to detect Alzheimer's before symptoms appear".

The study was published in the online journal Neurobiology of Aging.

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