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Study finds Alzheimer's gene affects the brain in childhood

Canadian Living
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Study finds Alzheimer's gene affects the brain in childhood

New research from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) indicates a gene linked to Alzheimer's begins to affect the brain decades before the illness begins to manifest later in life—even as early as childhood. In a study recently published in Molecular Psychiatry online, researchers found that the gene, SORL1, led to a reduction in white matter connections within the brain. Part of the central nervous system, these connections are significant in memory performance and executive function. SORL1 is linked to Alzheimer's disease Conducted collaboratively between the Zucker Hillside Hospital/Feinstein Institute in New York and the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago, the study's aim was to understand the effects of the gene across the span of a lifetime. SORL1 is one of many genes linked to late-onset Alzheimer's, the most common form of the illness. Using imaging and tissue analysis, researchers looked at three study groups: healthy individuals, ages eight to 86; post-mortem brain tissue from 189 non-Alzheimer individuals, from less than a year old and up to 92 years old; and a second group of post-mortem brains from 710 subjects who did have Alzheimer's or mild cognitive impairment, ages 66 to 108. Their findings? The first group exhibited a reduction in the aforementioned white matter connections where the SORL1 gene was present, regardless of age. That same disruption in performance also came into play for both sets of brain tissue study groups—in individuals who had Alzheimer's, as well as those who didn't. For the last study group (brain tissue from Alzheimer's individuals), SORL1 was linked to the presence of amyloid-beta, protein found in Alzheimer's disease. Study lead Dr. Aristotle Voineskos, MD, head of the Kimel Family Translational Imaging-Genetics Laboratory at CAMH, says their findings should help pave the way for new treatments down the road. "Through this knowledge, we can begin to design interventions at the right time, for the right people," he says. Genetics are only on part of the Alzheimer's puzzle: diet, sedentariness, smoking and high blood pressure also play a role in developing the disease, says Dr. Voineskos. "The gene has a relatively small effect, but the changes are reliable, and may represent one 'hit', among a pathway of hits required to develop Alzheimer's disease later in life." The next stage in analyzing the gene is determining whether there's a link between SORL1 and lifestyle factors related to Alzheimer's. Photo courtesy FlickrCC/Hey Paul Studios
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Study finds Alzheimer's gene affects the brain in childhood

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