Alzheimer Disease Research Center

The principal goal of the University of Pittsburgh Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (PITT-ADRC) is to perform and promote research that increases our understanding of the etiology and pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and on the development of effective therapies for this major public health concern. The PITT-ADRC is a mature center that has been at the forefront of the AD research since its inception in 1985. We investigate the mechanisms underlying the cognitive and behavioral symptoms, develop biomarkers for AD and other dementias, and develop strategies for effective early diagnoses and treatments of AD, which will allow us to address the key objectives of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA) to have efficacious treatments for the year 2025.

The center has an umbrella structure that involves investigators at the University of Pittsburgh and local institutions in clinical and basic research and collaborates with other national and international centers of excellence. Because our center promotes high level research, we are also dedicated to developing strong training programs to promote the careers of young investigators, consolidate the career of midlevel investigators, and to create strong ties with the community through multiple outreach programs

The PITT-ADRC has pioneered new positron emission tomography (i.e., Pittsburgh Compound B) technologies, has used multidisciplinary approaches to better characterize the transition from normal cognition to dementia, has explored the biology of more clinically aggressive forms of AD, has validated clinical criteria for different types of dementia, and has contributed to new insights in AD genetics. This solid scientific background has allowed the PITT-ADRC to develop areas of excellence that serve as the basis for the activities of the Center. These themes are reflected in the Center’s cores, and most notably in the large number of studies we support.

  • Current research foci emphasize neuropsychiatry and neuropsychology, molecular genetics and epidemiology, basic neuroscience, and functional imaging. Exemplary studies include:
  • Exploration of alterations in the brain at the early stages of AD and pre-symptomatic AD (including the risk state of mild cognitive impairment)
  • Examination of amyloid and other metabolic changes in AD brain.
  • Examination of the neuropathological changes in dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) and its overlap with AD.
  • Participation of national consortia for DLB and frontotemporal lobe dementia.
  • Study of genetic risk factors for AD and the genetic risks associated with the development of psychiatric symptoms, especially psychosis in AD
  • Functional MR and PET studies to make more accurate diagnoses of AD, including new ligands sensitive to amyloid and tau proteins in the brain.
  • Examination of neuroimaging effects of some of the established AD medications on cerebral blood flow and other metabolic markers in AD and PD
  • Development of new PET tracers for synaptic density and mitochondrial function.

The clinical component of the ADRC includes an evaluation and treatment program for individuals experiencing memory impairment. Accurate diagnoses are established through an interdisciplinary approach with evaluations in neurology, psychiatry, neuropsychology, neuroimaging, medicine and social work. After diagnosis, eligible subjects are followed longitudinally and participate in additional PITT-ADRC research studies. Currently, cutting-edge neuroimaging studies and several experimental therapeutic trials are ongoing in AD and related dementias.