Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center

The UCI Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) is one of 30 centers of excellence across the country funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

As Orange County’s only federally funded center, the UCI ADRC seeks to translate research findings into improved diagnosis, treatment, and care for people living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), Alzheimer’s disease, and related disorders, and to ultimately discover means to prevent and cure these conditions. Specifically, the UCI ADRC aims to:

  • Describe the cognitive and underlying brain changes that differentiate normal aging, Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Investigate ways to identify, diagnose, and treat Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.
  • Better understand cognitive aging in special populations, including the oldest old and individuals with Down syndrome.
  • Engage older adults in a variety of studies on memory and aging and investigation of improved treatments.
  • Serve as the expert source of information on memory and aging for Orange County seniors, health care professionals, aging service providers, and the community at large.

To accomplish its aims, the UCI ADRC functions in six collaborative cores that include investigators from a variety of disciplines (e.g., neurology, neurobiology, nursing, geriatric medicine, social work, pathology, statistics):

In the 2015-2020 funding cycle, the UCI ADRC is supporting the following three major projects:

High-Resolution Neuroimaging Biomarkers for Preclinical Alzheimer’s Disease

Project Leader: Dr. Michael Yassa

Project 1 of the ADRC strives to understand the conditions underlying the preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s disease in humans. We are interested in understanding the role of Alzheimer’s pathology in the brains of older adults ages 65-85 before manifestation of cognitive symptoms (i.e., during the preclinical phase). Pathology is thought to change the brain’s structure and function in subtle ways at the earliest stages of the disease, particularly in memory circuits.  We have developed advanced high-resolution brain imaging tools as well as computerized cognitive tests that are highly sensitive to the earliest changes in the disease process and allow for a comprehensive view of the impact of Alzheimer’s risk on the brain to pave the way to early detection and diagnosis. For more information about our aging and Alzheimer’s studies, please visit http://faculty.sites.uci.edu/myassa/alz/.

Microglia as mediators of dendritic spine loss and plaque formation in the Alzheimer’s disease brain

Project Leader: Kim Green, PhD

Genetic data have implicated microglia, the immune cells of the brain, in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. However, while we now know that these cells play an important role in who develops Alzheimer’s disease, we do not know what it is that they do to cause the disease. This project aims to uncover if microglia are important for either the initial development of plaques in the aged brain, and/or the neuronal damage and loss that occurs as a consequence of the plaques. We will use a combination of human samples and animal models to explore what microglia are doing to cause/contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. Firstly, we will take advantage of humans who developed Alzheimer’s disease pathology in their brain (i.e. plaques and tangles) but for some reason were protected against the dementia that normally then occurs. We hypothesize that the microglia are important for the dementia, and that these people will have altered microglia which have protected them. We will determine if this is the case, and identify how the microglia can be protective. Secondly, we will use mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease to directly explore what microglia do during the development of Alzheimer’s disease pathology, and ultimately aim to create a mouse model that contains human microglia to explore these roles. Identifying how microglia contribute to the disease is critical to develop targeted therapies that can prevent their harmful actions, and hopefully lead to treatments to prevent and treat the disease.

The Role of ApoE in Neuroplasticity and Ab Clearance using iPS Cell-Derived Astrocytes

Project Leader: Wayne Poon, PhD

The goal of this project is to understand the molecular mechanisms associated with the apoe4 genetic risk factor that is associated with late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of this type of dementia. This project will use novel techniques to reprogram or convert patient skin cells to astrocytes, a type of cell present in the brain with many supportive functions including the regulation of brain cell-to-cell communication, also known as synaptic plasticity. The objectives are to determine why individuals who carry this genetic risk are susceptible to cognitive decline with age and to identify novel therapeutic targets that can eventually lead to viable AD treatments in the near future.