Inflammation is the body's natural, protective response and is usually indicated by pain, heat, redness, swelling and loss of function. While inflammation is essential for the body's healing process, an excessive inflammatory response damages cells and has been linked to a number of chronic conditions, including cognitive decline.
Researchers have studied a range of biological markers of inflammation to better understand the associations between inflammation and ageing brain diseases, such as dementia, in order to improve early diagnosis and potentially inform preventative strategies. CHeBA researchers, in collaboration with researchers at the St Vincent's Centre for Applied Medical Research, are currently studying the role of one marker of inflammation, Macrophage inhibitory cytokine-1 (MIC-1/GDF15), associated with athersclerosis.
The research team, led by Associate Professor Wei Wen, Leader of CHeBA's Neuroimaging Group, has previously demonstrated the relationships between this marker and cerebral grey matter volume, suggesting its role as a possible biomarker of cognitive impairment. Building on these findings, Associate Professor Wen has recently completed a preliminary study into the relationships between MIC-1/GDF15 and the integrity of white matter in the brain.
"Considering that this marker is widely distributed in the brain, and both inflammation and vascular pathology impact on white matter, it was a logical extension to examine the relationship between MIC/GDF15 and measures of white matter integrity," explained Associate Professor Wen.
"Our findings showed a non-significant trend of higher associations in individuals with mild cognitive impairment," he said. "Although we cannot conclude MIC-1/GDF15 has a direct impact on white matter measures in the brain, our findings indicate that it should be investigated further as a potential marker of early white matter damage."
"The relationship is likely to be complex. We plan to continue our research using longitudinal data. Research using animal models to understand that biological mechanisms involved may also improve our understanding," he said.
Findings from the study were published in the journal, Psychoneuroendocrinology, on 29 July 2015.