An international team of scientists has identified four genes that appear to be crucial to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, paving the way for potential new diagnosis and treatment techniques.
The findings, reported in the journal Nature Genetics, were the result of a research project involving 80 scientists at 71 institutions in eight countries. University of California-Davis neurologist Charles DeCarli, who led the initiative, said the study provides a new understanding of the genetic components of Alzheimer's and brain development.
"With this study, we have new evidence that aging… and memory are influenced by specific genes," DeCarli said. "Understanding how these genes affect the development and aging of the [brain] may give us new tools to delay memory loss with advanced age and possibly reduce the impact of such diseases as Alzheimer's disease."
For the study, researchers analyzed the genes of more than 9,000 people and found certain versions of four genes may speed shrinkage of the region of the brain involved in making memories. That area, known as the hippocampus, shrinks with age, but speeding up that process could increase the risk of Alzheimer's.
The risk of Alzheimer's doubles every five years beginning at age 65, researchers noted, so a person with the unusual versions of the four genes in question face almost double the risk of developing Alzheimer's.
"This is definitely a case of 'bigger is better,'" said DeCarli. "We already know that Alzheimer's disease causes much of its damage by shrinking hippocampus volume. If someone loses a greater-than-average amount of volume due to the gene variants we've identified, the hippocampus is more vulnerable to Alzheimer's."