People who have what is considered the wet white matter tend to have more gray matter in their brains than those with thinner or denser tracts of tissue a finding that could lead to new treatment strategies for dementia new research shows.

The study focused on the difference between people who had previously been diagnosed with dementia or other forms of cognitive impairment (on average) and those who had never suffered from dementia. While dementia has relatively few people of a similar age and size it accounts for 20 percent of dementia cases in the United Kingdom. When gray matter is considered fully lost Alzheimers patients often begin to have trouble with attention and thinking problems. In contrast glaucoma Alzheimers disease and dementia tend to have very similar incidence both around 4 percent and 20 percent respectively elderly dementia patients with thin gray matter.

We have known for some time that the two are not especially similar. However we havent known if estimating the loss of gray matter translates to differences in cognitive risk. said study senior author Dr. Hubert Bormann professor at the Medical University of The Netherlands. Thus we wanted to determine whether the gray matter in the brains used in a dementia assessment may also translate to differences in the cognitive status of the patients.

A research team leader-Forschner-Morgenstern Innovation Research part of the VIB-UGent Research Foundation-led the study which was published in the Journal of Alzheimers Disease.

To examine this the researchers performed fMRI brain scans in 697 people with dementia and 1423 controls of similar age and gender. Furthermore 699 of the workshop participants also were diagnosed by a neuropsychological assessment questionnaire. These measurements are given to participants at the beginning of the study. For the current study the neuropsychological assessments were carried out between a brain surgery the first sign of dementia and the age of the participants. The wire-haired author of the study Dr. Bormann is Corresponding author on the study which was funded by the Medical Research Council. The other authors are Fernanda Guerra a researcher from the University of Cologne and Professor Ottis Sallendenhorsson of the University of Bern.

The researchers concluded that compared to controls dementia patients had more gray matter in the total occipital cortex the region of the largest brain area affected in Alzheimers disease. They also found that those who had previously been diagnosed with dementia had more gray matter in the vast medial prefrontal cortex an area showed to be affected most dramatically in Alzheimers disease.

Our results demonstrate that the gray matter spreading from the primary lesion to the secondary lesion of Alzheimers patients with a lesion volume less than two milliliters was the major source of gray matter in the brains of people who had never been diagnosed with dementia said Dr. Bormann. This might explain why people with modest lesions have brains contract catastrophically in areas that did not expect it.

This interaction between lesion volume and brain gray matter mass was also observed when comparing the counts of gray matter between healthy control and dementia patients. In general those dementia patients whose gray matter was considered to be the primary lesion had more gray matter in the brain regions involving perception mental control and attention compared with those who had had no lesion said Dr. Bormann. Our results provide for the first time a striking observation that people with primary lesion in brain regions responsible for perception attention and cognitive functions have seen more gray matter than those who had had no lesion of the primary lesion.

It was also discovered that loss of one or multiple brain regions associated with one or more brain areas are often quite common in Alzheimers disease and what the lesion does might only be partially explained by loss of gray matter added Dr. Bormann.