A Brief History of Alzheimer's Disease, by Domenico Pratico, MD (Temple University)
Updated: May 31
Cognitive decline and impaired memory in aged individuals, aka "dementia", have been recognized for a very long time. One of the earliest references to age-related mental deficiency is attributed to Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher of the 6th century B.C. Pythagoras divided the life cycle into five distinct stages, commencing respectively at ages 7, 21, 49, 63, and 81, the last two of which were designated the senium, or "old age" - a period of decline and decay of the human body and regression of mental capacities.
It was not until 1906 that German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer identified the first case in a fifty-year-old woman with profound memory loss whom he followed until she died. After examining her brain he reported the presence of an unusual pathology, which he described as: "a dramatic shrinkage of the brain and abnormal deposits in and around nerve cells".
1910: Dr. Emil Kraepelin, who worked with Dr. Alzheimer, named the disease after his mentor.
1984: Identification of the beta-amyloid as the main component of Alzheimer's brain plaques.
1986: Identification of Tau protein as a key component of Tangles which is the second pathological hallmark of the disease.
1987: Identification of the first gene associated with inherited forms of Alzheimer's Disease. This gene on chromosome 21 codes Amyloid precursor protein (APP), the parent molecule from which beta-amyloid is formed.
1994: Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan shares with the American people that he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
1995: First transgenic mouse model that develops Alzheimer-like brain pathology. The mouse was developed by inserting one of the human APP genes linked to an inherited form of Alzheimer's Disease.
1999: Studies show that the "Alzheimer's vaccine" is successful in mice.
2000: The amyloid beta secretase, a protein necessary for the formation of amyloid beta, is discovered.
2004: The gamma secretase, another important player in amyloid formation is identified.
2004: Discovery of an imaging agent called Pittsburgh Compound B (PIB), which enters the brain through the bloodstream and attaches itself to beta-amyloid deposits, where it can be detected by positron emission tomography.
2011: President Obama signs National Alzheimer's Project Act into law.
2021: the FDA approves the first drug that targets amyloid beta peptides (Aducanumab)
Domenico Praticò, MD, is the Scott Richards North Star Charitable Foundation Chair for Alzheimer’s Research, Professor and Director of the Alzheimer’s Center at Temple, and Professor of Pharmacology at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University