Background: D-amino acids have been recognized as bioactive substances in humans. D-Serine and D-alanine are co-agonists of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors. Glutamate has been suggested to be involved in the pathophysiology of Alzheimer's disease (AD). This study aimed to explore the roles of amino acids, particularly D-amino acids, in cognitive decline among patients with AD or mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Methods: We enrolled 144 patients: 20 amnestic MCI, 85 mild AD, 25 moderate AD, and 14 severe AD. Serum levels of amino acids were measured by high performance liquid chromatography and confirmed by D-amino acid oxidase assay. The cognitive function was mainly evaluated by Alzheimer's Disease Assessment Scale - Cognitive Subscale (ADAS-cog). Results: ADAS-cog total scores were positively correlated with D-serine (r = 0.186, p = 0.026) and D-/Total- serine ratio (r = 0.191, p = 0.022). ADAS-cog behavior scores were negatively correlated with D-glutamate (r = −0.177, p = 0.034) and L-glutamate (r = −0.250, p = 0.003), but positively correlated with D-alanine (r = 0.236, p = 0.005) and D-/Total- alanine ratio (r = 0.252, p = 0.002). Among the 11 tasks of ADAS-cog, D-glutamate and D-serine were correlated with different items respectively, noteworthily in the opposite direction. Conclusion: This is the first study suggesting that D-amino acids in blood may be correlated with ADAS-cog in different items and in the opposite direction. Lower D-glutamate and higher D-alanine levels may predict more behavioral symptoms. In summary, D-glutamate, D-serine and D-alanine play different and characteristic roles in AD. Further longitudinal studies are warranted to elucidate the function and interaction of D-amino acids in specific cognitive domains as well as various phases of dementia.
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