Dementia is a neurocognitive disorder characterized by a progressive memory loss and impairment in cognitive and functional abilities. Autophagy and mitophagy are two important cellular processes by which the damaged intracellular components are degraded by lysosomes. To investigate the contribution of autophagy and mitophagy in degenerative diseases, we investigated the serum levels of specific autophagic markers (ATG5 protein) and mitophagic markers (Parkin protein) in a population of older patients by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Two hundred elderly (≥65 years) outpatients were included in the study: 40 (20 F and 20 M) with mild-moderate late onset Alzheimer’s disease (AD); 40 (20 F and 20 M) affected by vascular dementia (VAD); 40 with mild cognitive impairment (MCI); 40 (20 F and 20 M) with “mixed” dementia (MD); 40 subjects without signs of cognitive impairment were included as sex-matched controls. Our data indicated that, in serum samples, ATG5 and Parkin were both elevated in controls, and that VAD compared with AD, MCI and MD (all p < 0.01). Patients affected by AD, MD, and MCI showed significantly reduced circulating levels of both ATG5 and Parkin compared to healthy controls and VAD individuals, reflecting a significant down-regulation of autophagy and mitophagy pathways in these groups of patients. The measurement of serum levels of ATG5 and Parkin may represent an easily accessible diagnostic tool for the early monitoring of patients with cognitive decline.
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