Report on newly recognized cause of dementia should be read widely


Alzheimer’s disease is recognized as the most common cause of dementia, and many in the laity use the two terms almost interchangeably. However, there is increasing recognition that dementia in old age is a complex disorder, with mixed neuropathologies being the norm rather than the exception (Ann Neurol. 2018 Jan;83[1]:74-83).

Dr. Perminder Sachdev

Dr. Perminder Sachdev

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and cerebrovascular pathologies are the most common, but another pathology is receiving increasing attention in relation to cognitive disorders in very old individuals – that related to the transactive response DNA binding protein of 43 kDa (TDP-43). This protein is expressed in most human tissues, including the brain, is localized mostly in nuclei, and binds to RNA and DNA as well as numerous proteins, with the role of regulating gene expression.

It has been known for nearly 2 decades that TDP-43 can become abnormally phosphorylated and translocated to the cytoplasm to produce a proteinopathy that forms the basis of a significant proportion of frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and the majority of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. More recently, it has also been reported to be common in the brains of older people (over age 80 years) and associated with a cognitive disorder characterized by an amnestic picture that mimics AD. Since the protein deposition is predominantly in the limbic regions (amygdala, hippocampus, insula), it has been termed “‘limbic-predominant, age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy”, or LATE.

A recently convened international working group has published consensus criteria for LATE and provided guidelines for its staging. Community-based autopsy studies suggest that 20%-50% of people aged over 80 years have the neuropathologic change associated with LATE. The clinical presentation resembles amnestic dementia syndrome, much like AD. Both LATE and AD pathologies often occur in the same individual, but the relative predominance of one or the other varies greatly between individuals. The genetic risks of LATE overlap with those for FTD and AD, and other risk factors may also be shared with AD, which remains an area for further investigation. There are at present no specific biomarkers of LATE. It is associated with hippocampal sclerosis in some cases, which may be visible on MRI, but hippocampal sclerosis itself is not specific to TDP-43 pathology.

The LATE consensus working group report (Brain. 2019 Apr 30. doi: 10.1093/brain/awz099) underlines several gaps in our understanding of LATE and calls for systematic study of the causes of dementia – which may be nearly as common as AD in the very old. The report should be read widely and should remind us of the diverse pathologies that contribute to cognitive disorders, alone and in combination with one another.

Dr. Sachdev is Scientia Professor of Neuropsychiatry and codirector of the Center for Healthy Brain Aging at the University of New South Wales, Sydney; and clinical director of the Neuropsychiatric Institute at the Prince of Wales Hospital, also in Sydney. His major areas of research are drug-induced movement disorders, brain imaging, cognitive aging and dementia. Dr. Sachdev also served on the Neurocognitive Disorders Work Group of the DSM-5.

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