New Biomarker Found That Could Potentially Aid Early Screening for Dementia

Elderly woman losing part of head feeling confused as a symbol of declining mental function.
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Scientists from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the National University Health System (NUHS) report that they have discovered a new biomarker, ergothioneine (ET), found in blood plasma that may predict an increased risk of cognitive impairment and dementia in adults. . The results of their research have been published in the journal Antioxidantspoint to the possibility of using this biomarker as an early screening method for dementia in the elderly.

According to the research team led by Professor Barry Halliwell from NUS’ Department of Biochemistry, ET is a food-derived compound that was first identified more than 100 years ago. Then, in 2005, researchers discovered a transporter for ET that plays a role in the uptake and accumulation of ET in the body.

Halliwell’s own research previously showed that ET is a powerful antioxidant and has the ability to protect human cells from stress and various toxins. Its main dietary sources in humans are mushrooms and increased consumption of golden, oyster, shiitake and white button mushrooms is associated with an increased risk of mild cognitive impairment in elderly Singaporeans.

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The NUS and NUHS research team showed that ET is actively retained in the body after using oral supplements containing the compound, and further that pre-clinical models showed that it is transported to virtually all organs, with high levels found in certain cells and tissues such as blood cells, eyes. , liver, lungs and brain. A 2016 study by Halliwell’s team found that participants with mild cognitive impairment exhibited lower levels of ET, which was later verified in a larger study, published last year. Free Radical Biology and MedicineThose with cognitive impairment with and without dementia.

Based on these findings, Halliwell and team began their most recent work to determine whether this knowledge of low ET levels in blood plasma and its association with cognitive impairment and dementia could be used as a predictive biomarker.

For this work, researchers recruited 470 elderly patients and followed them for up to five years at the Memory, Aging and Cognition Center at NUHS. During this period the investigators measured participants’ blood plasma ET levels while tracking patients’ cognitive and functional abilities over time. They then examined the link between low ET levels and found a correlation with risk of cognitive and functional decline over time.

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The team showed that participants with lower levels of ET exhibited poorer cognitive performance at the start of the study and accelerated rates of decline in cognitive and functional abilities during the follow-up period.

“Prior to this study, there was little evidence that blood ET levels could predict the risk of developing cognitive problems. The current study is significant because it measures ET levels in older participants before dementia develops. Our results show that if your ET levels are low, your cognitive The risk of having problems increases,” says Halliwell.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of study participants also showed structural changes in the brain to suggest a link between low levels of ET in the blood and cognitive decline with underlying disease pathology. Structural changes include reduced cortical thickness, reduced hippocampus volume, and white matter hyperintensity—all of which are hallmarks of neurodegenerative disease.

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“This suggests the possibility of using a simple blood test to detect ET levels for early screening of elderly people who may be at higher risk of cognitive decline,” Halliwell said. He added that low ET levels are also associated with other age-related diseases such as frailty, cardiovascular disease and macular degeneration, so ET may have a more general role in maintaining health.

Based on their findings, the researchers are launching a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial to provide further evidence of ET’s therapeutic and diagnostic potential. It is recruiting patients over the age of 60 with mild cognitive impairment to participate in the next round of this study.

“If ET deficiency increases the risk of cognitive decline, we will have the possibility to intervene, and we are trying to find out with this clinical trial,” noted Irwin Cheh, senior research fellow in the Department of Biochemistry NUS.


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