Skin biopsies may be able to be used to detect elevated levels of abnormal proteins, possibly allowing for early detection of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, according to a study set to be presented at the upcoming American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting.
Since skin and brain tissue both originate from the ectoderm in an embryo, researchers hypothesized that skin tissue may reflect the same abnormalities that brain tissue does. Often, diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are not pathologically confirmed until postmortem, when a brain tissue sample can be tested.
Researchers took skin biopsies from 20 people with Alzheimer’s, 16 with Parkinson’s, and 17 with dementia caused by other conditions, and compared the samples against 12 healthy age-matched controls. Compared to the age-matched controls and patients with dementia from other causes, the patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s had seven times greater levels of tau protein, while patients with Parkinson’s had eight times greater levels of alpha-synuclein protein compared to controls.
“More research is needed to confirm these results, but the findings are exciting because we could potentially begin to use skin biopsies from living patients to study and learn more about these diseases. This also means tissue will be much more readily available for scientists to study,” said study author Ildefonso Rodriguez-Leyva, MD, of Central Hospital at the University of San Luis Potosi in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. “This procedure could be used to study not only Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, but also other neurodegenerative diseases.”