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Free radical damage pinpointed in Alzheimer's disease

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 12 December 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1616
  1. Scott Gottlieb
  1. New York

    Oxidative damage to brain cells may be a principal indicator of Alzheimer's disease activity, according to new research that has identified increased concentrations of free radicals in certain areas of patients' brains.

    Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and colleagues at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida, have discovered that the measurement in body tissue of compounds called isoprostanes can accurately reflect the amount of neurological oxidative damage. The investigators used sophisticated scanning techniques to measure the amount of isoprostanes in tissue samples obtained from 43 brains. Nineteen of the brains came from patients known to have had Alzheimer's disease, 16 from patients with either Parkinson's disease or schizophrenia, and 8 from normal controls. They found that isoprostane concentrations were markedly raised in samples from both the frontal and temporal poles in patients known to have had Alzheimer's disease but were normal in these areas in the samples taken from other brains (FASEB Journal 1998;12:1247-54).

    Dr Garret Fitzgerald, one of the study's senior authors, said that the findings suggested that the indicator that his team had looked at is a sensitive, quantitative measure of disease activity. He suggested that the findings may lead to the development of novel tests to assess the amount of disease activity in patients living with the disease and to evaluate anti-inflammatory or antioxidant drug combinations for use against Alzheimer's.

    Oxidative damage to cells is caused by the activity of free radicals, which are released during normal cell processes. This results in oxidative stress, a process that is believed to result in tissue inflammation, long suspected to be a cause of Alzheimer's disease. Brain tissue is particularly susceptible to free radical damage because, unlike many other tissues, it does not contain large amounts of protective antioxidant compounds (Lancet 1997;349:1189). Previously, there has been no reliable means for assessing the degree of oxidative stress in brain tissue.

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    Researchers have located free radical damage in Alzheimer's

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