Researchers pinpoint brain's 'weak spot' for Alzheimer's, connection to schizophrenia

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A particular part of the brain appears to be a “weak spot” that is vulnerable to Alzheimer's disease, according to recently released findings out of the United Kingdom.

The investigators focused on a network of the brain's “gray matter” that is associated with long-term memory and intellectual ability. It is among the last to develop, in late adolescence, and one of the first to show signs of neurodegeneration, the study authors determined.

“These complex regions, which combine information coming from various senses, seem to be more vulnerable than the rest of the brain to both schizophrenia and Alzheimer's, even though these two diseases have different origins and appear at very different, almost opposite, times of life,” stated lead researcher Gwenaëlle Douaud, Ph.D., at Oxford University's Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain.

The finding is the first “clear evidence” of the long-held idea that schizophrenia and Alzheimer's are rooted in the same parts of the brain, the study authors noted. The discovery also opens up the possibility of identifying people at risk of Alzheimer's earlier in life, and determining potential genetic and environmental factors driving the illness.

The investigators did MRI scans of nearly 500 people ranging from 8 to 85 years old, and also compared healthy brains to those of people with Alzheimer's and schizophrenia.

Full findings appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.