Carnegie Mellon University
November 15, 2018

Barth Receives NIH Grant to Study Neurons in Alzheimer’s Early Stages

Carnegie Mellon University neuroscientist Alison Barth has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study synapses in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The findings could provide a clue to what happens in the brain during Alzheimer’s before symptoms begin to appear.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. Two of the tell-tale signs of Alzheimer’s are the appearance of beta-amyloid plaques that build up between neurons and tau tangles that accumulate inside of neurons. People with Alzheimer’s normally don’t experience symptoms until the disease has significantly progressed in the brain and these plaques and tangles become pervasive. This has made it difficult for researchers to determine how Alzheimer’s begins and to follow its early progression. There is growing evidence that changes in the structure, function and organization of neurons in the brain’s hippocampus and entorhinal cortex — both of which play a role in memory — precede the development of Alzheimer’s plaques, tangles and symptoms. 

“For as widespread as Alzheimer’s disease is, we still don’t know what causes it and there is no cure,” said Barth, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and member of the joint Carnegie Mellon/University of Pittsburgh Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition. “Understanding what happens to neurons during the earliest days of Alzheimer’s will help us figure out what initiates disease progression and how we can intervene to cure this disease.”

Under the NIH grant, Barth and biological sciences postdoctoral researcher Ajit Ray will use new fluorescent cell tagging and imaging methods developed in collaboration with biological sciences postdoctoral fellow Dika Kuljis and Professor of Biological Sciences and Chemistry and Director of the Molecular Biosensor and Imaging Center Marcel Bruchez to determine whether there are any changes in quantity or structure of synapses in the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex during the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in a mouse model. This NIH award follows up on a collaborative project funded through BrainHub and the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, India.

By Jocelyn Duffy |