By strengthening the signal produced by MRS imaging, the researchers will test in animals a potential new non-invasive imaging technique for diagnosing dementia and monitoring treatment effectiveness.
Most treatments designed to delay the onset of dementia currently attempt to inhibit the breakdown of the brain chemical acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter used by neurons involved in cognition and memory. These cholinergic neurons severely degenerate in patients with dementia. The researchers have used carbon-13 Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (13C-MRS) to follow the rate of synthesis of acetylcholine from the brain chemical choline, in live laboratory brain tissue cultures. The rate is a direct measure, a biomarker, for the functioning of cholinergic neurons in the brain.
Now they plan to induce more than 10,000 fold increase in 13C-MRS sensitivity, sharpening its temporal and spatial resolution, by hyperpolarizing choline in the laboratory and administering it to laboratory animals prior to 13C-MRSimaging. If this enhanced imaging technique is effective in laboratory animals, the researchers would seek funding from other sources to initiate testing in humans with mild cognitive impairment and those with dementia to determine whether this non-invasive imaging tool can effectively diagnose dementia and monitor effects of treatments designed to inhibit acetylcholine breakdown.
Significance: This 13C-MRSimaging enhancement may eventually prove to be a safe and effective non-invasive tool for diagnosing dementia in humans and assessing experimental therapies.