"By the time visible symptoms of dementia appear and a patient first sees a doctor about it, this process has been under way for years," explained Dr. Shatz, a professor of neurobiology and of biology and the director of Bio-X, Stanford's interdisciplinary biosciences institute,to
Even though Alzheimer's disease is typically only diagnosed in the elderly population, the disease is already present in the brain long before symptoms become visible. Researchers at University of Stanford believe they have found a few promising signs that indicate the early presence of the disease in patients as a result of observing the development of symptoms. Dr. Carla Shatz of Stanford studied a molecule that she thinks may advance early Alzheimer's diagnosis. The PirB molecule, which is found in mice, is a protein that works as a brake, dialing down the fierceness of the immune response in cases where autoimmunity is being avoided by the body. It was already known that the molecule played an important role in the immune system, and ten years ago it was also discovered to be present in the brain as well. However, Schatz recently discovered that PirB also acts in the brain as a brake on the synapses, which are the small but crucial point of contact between nerve cell conveys signals.