Alzheimer's Hits Brain's 'Daydream' Centers

Regions key to musing, reflection are prone to the disease, study shows

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TUESDAY, Aug. 23, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- The areas of the brain that young, healthy people use when daydreaming are the same areas that fail in people with Alzheimer's disease, new research reveals.

"The regions of the brain we tend to use in our default state when we are young are very similar to the regions where plaques form in older people with Alzheimer's disease," said study lead researcher Randy L. Buckner, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Washington University, St. Louis.

On the basis of this finding, researchers believe that Alzheimer's disease may be due to abnormalities in the regions of the brain that operate the "default state," the name given to the cognitive state people defer to when musing, daydreaming or thinking to themselves.

Buckner's team used five different medical imaging techniques on 764 people including Alzheimer's patients, those on the brink of dementia, and healthy individuals.

Reporting in the Aug. 24 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, they unexpectedly found that the regions of the brain that light up when you slip into comfortable patterns of thought are the same as those that later in life exhibit disabling clumps of plaque, a key characteristic of Alzheimer's.

That means dementia might be a consequence of the everyday function of the brain, said Buckner.

"This was not a relationship we had even considered," Buckner said. "The hypothesis is that the cascade of events that leads to Alzheimer's begins at young childhood."

More information

The National Institute on Aging has more about Alzheimer's disease.

SOURCES: Washington University, news release, Aug. 23, 2005

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