Studio UCBM published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease

August 10th, 2020 -  A group of researchers fromInstitute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies of the National Research Council (Cnr-Istc), together with theUniversità Campus Bio-Medico di Roma andIrccs Mediterranean Neurological Institute Neuromed has managed to clarify, thanks to the use of an Artificial Intelligence model capable of simulating some functions of the human brain, the mechanisms underlying the initial development of Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia. Some studies conducted at UCBM, the Irccs Fondazione S. Lucia of Rome and the University of Sheffield (UK), had recently shown how the malfunction of a small area located deep in the brain, the ventral tegmental area (VTA), could be one of the very first events associated with Alzheimer's disease. 

The VTA is predominantly composed of neurons that produce dopamine, a very important neurotransmitter for regulating mood and motivation. "Based on the results obtained in these studies, we have computer simulated the pathological processes that are triggered in the very early stages of the disease", explain Daniele Caligiore and Massimo Silvetti of the Cnr-Istc.

The two colleagues UCBM and Neuromed, Marcello D'Amelio and Stefano Puglisi-Allegra underline the importance of the work for understanding the possible causes of Alzheimer's: “This work has allowed us to clarify how the initial degeneration of the VTA cascade alters the function of other neuromodulatory circuits, initially causing depression-like symptoms (typical of the early stages of the disease) and subsequently favoring the accumulation of neurotoxic proteins which characterizes the disease (extracellular plaques of beta-amyloid and intracellular tangles of the Tau protein), with consequent destruction of neurons in areas of the brain functional to memory and other cognitive functions”.

The Artificial Intelligence system used by the researchers was able to provide a unifying theory, capable of explaining many data relating to Alzheimer's disease, outlining an interpretative scheme that allows the many pieces of this complex puzzle to fit together. "Since the activity of the VTA neurons is linked to the management of emotions and the motivational state, our discovery highlights the important role of the patient's psychological state, suggesting that the reduction of motivation and the gradual loss of interest, phenomena often underpinningtostiby patients and their families, can accelerate the progression of the disease”, concludes Gianluca Baldassarre, coordinator of the Cnr-Istc team.

The research, published in the journal "Journal of Alzheimer's Disease”, opens a new path to early diagnosis and the development of therapies to be implemented in the initial phase of the disease, in order to be able to slow down, if not even block, the degeneration of brain areas involved in the production and use of dopamine.