Understanding how Posterior Cortical Atrophy affects the brain

Research project: Posterior cortical atrophy; a pathological characterisation.

Lead Investigator:  Dr Zeinab Abdi
Institution: University College London
Grant type: Clinical Training Fellowship
Duration: 36 months
Amount: £225,000

Why did we fund this research?

Comments from our Research Network

‘An area of the brain that has not had much attention, any studies like this can help to answer some questions. The project sounds promising and possibly another step forward. A good candidate with much potential’

What do we know already?

Posterior cortical atrophy (PCA) is a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease that affects the back of the brain. Symptoms for PCA present differently compared to more typical forms of Alzheimer’s as people with this type most commonly experience visual problems first, with memory loss not happening until later on in the disease process.

PCA is not thought to run in families and studies so far have not identified a specific gene that definitely causes the disease. Current studies have shown that the main hallmark of PCA is the same as the most common form of Alzheimer’s, which are misfolded proteins called amyloid and tau. However, as people with PCA have problems related to the back of the brain, there may be aspects of the disease that affect this area that are not seen in people with the more common form of Alzheimer’s. 

Previous work has found that reduced blood flow to the back of the brain may be involved in causing PCA. Recent studies have also shown that problems with the immune system may be involved in Alzheimer’s, but the role of the immune system in PCA specifically has not been looked at. 

What does this project involve?

Dr Abdi plans to understand more about the areas of the brain that are not examined as much by Alzheimer’s researchers but are relevant for people with PCA. She will examine brain samples from people with PCA who donated their brain after they passed away.

This will give insight into what is happening in different areas of the brain and why certain areas are affected and not others. This will help to understand the underlying mechanisms and identify potential signs and signals of the disease. 

Dr Abdi will also look at whether evidence of damage from the immune system can be seen in the PCA samples and compare this to samples from more common forms of Alzheimer’s.

How will this project help people living with dementia? 

Increasing the understanding of different forms of Alzheimer’s could help the development of tests to better diagnose the different forms of the condition. It may also help in designing treatments to stop or slow the progress of the disease.

PCA is a rare and little studied disease and some of the people who are affected feel there is a lack of understanding and awareness, which this study could address. The results from this study will be shared through PCA patient support groups. The results could also be used to help understand the mechanisms of other rare forms of Alzheimer’s.