New imaging method tracks neurological diseases

Posted Aug 12, 2016 by Tim Sandle
Medical researchers have devised a new imaging method to track genetic markers in the human brain. Abnormalities with these genes are indicators of potential neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
PET scans showing the differances between a normal older adult s brain and the brain of an older adu...
PET scans showing the differances between a normal older adult's brain and the brain of an older adult afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. — On photo (left to right): PET scan of normal brain, PET scan of Alzheimer’s disease brain.
National Institutes of Health
Specifically the research is centered on an enzyme that is associated with neurodegenerative diseases and certain mental health issues like schizophrenia. The enzyme of interest is histone deacetylases.
To track the effects in the brain, according to The Verge, medical technologists have developed an advanced imaging technique that allows the effects of the enzyme to be seen in real time as well as the effect upon gene activity in the brain.
Interest in the enzyme and its effect on genes forms part of the science of epigenetics. Epigenetics is concerned with heritable changes in gene expression that do not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence; that is the influence of outside factors upon the way genes are expressed. Recent research suggests dysfunction in epigenetics affects how an organism (including humans) functions. This appears to, in some cases, lead to neurological disorders.
The recent studies also indicate that histone deacetylases are involved with changing gene expressions. One question of interest is can these changes be seen and tracked early? To answer this requires an understanding of the differences between how molecules interact in healthy brains compared with brains of people with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
To capture this through imaging techniques, a research group has dedicated seven years to finding an appropriate compound. Finally one called Martinostat has been selected as an appropriate marker, as identified by scientists based at Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Harvard Medical School. The molecule can be tracked using PET (positron emission tomography) scans.
Initial studies have been performed on rats and then apes. Now the research is progressing towards human trials.
The research has been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The paper is titled "Insights into neuroepigenetics through human histone deacetylase PET imaging."