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New Hopes for the Early Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s


We still do not understand the causes of Alzheimer’s Disease, an incurable neurodegenerative disease that mainly hits elders, but a new study published on Nature Communications provides new hope for the early diagnosis of this disease.

The study was conducted jointly by Sapienza professors Laura Petrosini, a Behavioural Psycho-physiologist, and Stefano Puglisi-Allegra, a researcher on cerebral dopaminergic systems, and Marcello D’Amelio, Director of the Molecular Neurosciences Laboratory at the Santa Lucia Foundation.

The team identified a new area of the brain as the locus where the very first stages of disease develop place: the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) in the mid-brain. The VTA is the area the neurons containing the Dopamine neuro-mediator are found. These neurons interact with several regions of the brain, including the hippocampus, the prefrontal cortex and the ventral and limbic striatal areas. The death of VTA neurons determines the drastic reduction of Dopamine, which, in turn, causes the initial clinical signs of Alzheimer’s, such as mood disorders and memory loss. 

“The main result of this study is that it steered our attention to VTA,” explains Stefano Puglisi-Allegra, “and identified mood disorders and not only memory loss as an early sign of the disease. Research carried out until now has focused only on the temporal cortex and on the hippocampus. The results confirm the importance of funding basic research for identifying the schemes and therefore the causes of diseases.”

The research provides invaluable new information on Alzheimer Disease. The new scientific data allows us to anticipate the disease’s diagnosis through a neuro-radiological and functional test specific to the areas of the brain involved. Therapeutically, the results pave the way for further research in the pharmacological field to identify the most suitable strategies for patient recovery. Lastly, studying the causes of VTA degeneration can help us identifying hypothetical risk factors that accelerate brain cell death.