Older woman losing parts of head and looking confused as a symbol of dementia.
Credit: SIphotography/Getty Images

Research led by Fudan University in Shanghai, China shows high levels of specific blood proteins can predict the onset of dementia 10 years or more in the future.

Of the many proteins tested, Glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), neurofilament light chain protein (NEFL), growth/differentiation factor 15 (GDF15), and latent-transforming growth factor beta-binding protein 2 (LTBP2) had the strongest links to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and vascular dementia.

As new treatments, such as Eisai and Biogen’s Leqembi for early stage Alzheimer’s, become available it is ever more important to predict who will develop dementia and related conditions at an early stage.

“This task is of the utmost importance for the timely referral of at-risk populations and for subsequent early diagnosis and prompt intervention. Nonetheless, it remains a major challenge for clinicians, and it is not known how to best predict the onset of dementia,” write the authors of the current study, published in Nature Aging.

“A possible turning point has recently emerged with the advancement of blood-based biomarkers, which could serve as a preferable tool to facilitate early risk screening in the preclinical phase among the general population.”

Jin-Tai Yu, a professor at Fudan University, and co-investigators looked at blood protein profiles in 52,645 adults enrolled in the UK Biobank and studied 14 years of follow up data to assess links between initial levels of these proteins and different forms of dementia.

The participants were healthy at the beginning of the study when the blood samples were taken. Overall, there were 1,417 cases of dementia over the follow up period –219 within five years, 833 within 10 years and 584 after 10 years had passed.

The researchers assessed levels of 1,463 blood plasma proteins sampled at the beginning of the study to assess links with neurodegeneration. The results showed GFAP, NEFL, GDF15 and LTBP2 had the strongest links with all-cause dementia, but of these GFAP had the strongest links and levels began to change around 10 years before a diagnosis of dementia.

People with a high level of GFAP at first assessment were 2.32-times more likely to develop some form of dementia during the follow up period. Those with high levels of LTBP2 at the beginning of the study also had a significantly increased risk for developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

“Combining GFAP with basic demographic indicators achieved a desirable prediction for dementia, even more than 10 years before the diagnosis,” write the authors. “These findings are poised to yield significant implications for screening people at high risk for dementia and for early intervention.”

Also of Interest