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Research Uses Tiny Molecule To Identify Neurodegeneration Biomarker

Photo courtesy of Hui-Chen Lu/Indiana University
MicroRNA 142, in green, shown in neurons in the brain. The molecule may represent a potential biomarker to diagnose or predict dementia.

Indiana University research identified a tiny molecule that may signal the presence of some types of dementia. Researchers say this could be a first step to developing an early test for Alzheimer’s.

Unlike regular "messenger RNA," which direct cells to produce specific proteins, microRNA plays a regulatory role, increasing or decreasing the number of proteins that messenger RNAs encode. 

Indiana University professor Hui Chen Lu's study suggests changes to the molecule could be an early-warning system for Alzheimer's disease. She says the microRNA is ideal because of its stability. 

"There is something actually protecting them from getting degraded and the great thing is they are actually in plasma," says Lu. 

It can also be detected in urine, so scientists are interested in using it as a possible biomarker. Lu says the presence of microRNA changes in Alzheimer’s patients is already known. 

"It’s hard to know when that change means anything because that could be just the consequence of a dying brain," says Lu.

The study tested mice to confirm microRNA changes related neuro-inflammation and associated with dementia. 

"And the next thing to see if which pathway, what biological consequence of this microRNA changes lead to," says Lu.

The next step will be to see if the molecules can be detected as a biomarker.