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Human Imaging Study

Human Imaging Study Identifies Target for Treating Mild Cognitive Impairment

By using a chemical agent that can detect proteins that shuttle serotonin (a neurotransmitter regulating appetite, sleep, and mood), researchers found the level of these serotonin transporter proteins is lower in 28 patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a risk factor for developing dementia, relative to 28 healthy control subjects.

As the reduction in serotonin transporter proteins was greater than the reductions in brain blood flow or grey matter in the brain (two previously known imaging signs of dementia), detection of serotonin transporter proteins on brain imaging may serve as a novel early biomarker for detecting patients at risk for developing dementia. The study also suggests that the serotonin system may be a new therapeutic target for preventing or treating dementia.

This study shows how human-focused research studies can identify new human-relevant insights into the etiology of human diseases. It also directs scientists to study a new molecular pathway that may affect the onset or progression of dementia.

Smith GS, Barrett FS, Joo JH, et al. Molecular imaging of serotonin degeneration in mild cognitive impairment. Neurobiol Dis. 2017;105:33-41. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2017.05.007.