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2017 Grants - Berry
Determining the Influence of tau Pathology on Decision Making
Anne Berry, Ph.D.
The Regents of the University of California
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
2017 Alzheimer's Association Research Fellowship (AARF)
How are changes in specific markers of brain injury in Alzheimer's disease related to the ability to make financial decisions?
Older adults face many important decisions critical to their medical and financial well-being. However, aging and Alzheimer's disease cause changes in the brain that can make these decisions more difficult. Alzheimer's disease causes the accumulation of a protein called tau in parts of the brain that are essential for memory and decision making. In addition, Alzheimer's disease is associated with changes in the activity of a chemical in the brain called dopamine. Dopamine is important for making memories related to rewards, for example, the ability to remember a financial transaction that had a positive outcome.
Anne Berry, Ph.D., and colleagues propose to measure specific changes in the brain—the levels of tau protein tangles and dopamine activity—and determine whether they are related to the ability to make financial decisions. They will use positron emission tomography (PET) to measure tau protein and dopamine levels. Their plan is to measure these molecules in the brains of older adults (age 60-90 years) with signs and symptoms of early-stage Alzheimer's disease and who are still able to live independently. These individuals may be the most vulnerable to the detrimental effect of Alzheimer's disease on everyday decision making.
After measuring the levels of tau and dopamine in the brain, the researchers will then ask the study participants to complete a test to evaluate "reward-enhanced memory," or the ability to remember positive financial transactions. Specifically, the test will gauge the ability of participants to remember homes sold by specific real-estate agents at a profit, at a loss, or neither. The researchers will determine whether higher levels of tau and disruption in dopamine levels in the brain measured by PET imaging are associated with lower reward-enhanced memory test scores.
In a final set of experiments, Dr. Berry and colleagues will ask the study participants to complete a questionnaire that measures their ability to complete real-world financial activities, such as using a checkbook register and reading a bank statement. They will determine whether changes in tau and dopamine correlate with the ability to perform these financial tasks.
This study may reveal insights into how changes in tau and dopamine are related to changes in the ability to make decisions that rely on reward-based memory, such as financial decisions. The findings of this research may help in identifying individuals who may be at risk for poor decision making and help in the design of education and support tools for older adults with early-stage Alzheimer's disease so they can maintain their independence.