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Amyloid plaques have long been identified as a significant cause of Alzheimer’s disease, but the speed at which it develops has been unknown.

Bradley Hyman, MD, PhD, director of the Alzheimer’s Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, used a novel technique for microscopically imaging the brains of living animals. Using mice that developed amyloid plaques, researchers imaged initially plaque-free areas of the brain on a regular basis. Although plaques rarely formed, when they did it was within 24-hours after a plaque free area of the same area had been imaged. The new plaques were similar in appearance to seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

Hyman believes that the results confirm the suspicion that plaques are a primary event in the neuronal changes that are the main cause for the development of Alzheimer’s dementia. He hopes that this finding will help lead to a way to keep plaques from forming.