United States researchers have discovered a new Alzheimer’s gene that could explain 5% of late-onset Alzheimer’s cases.
At the April 14 meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, held in Toronto, scientists presented information about the gene variant called MTHFD1L, which is found on chromosome 6. People who carry this gene are nearly twice as likely to develop late-onset Alzheimer’s as those who do not.
Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia and the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. Build-up and tangles of protein in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients result in mental decline characterized by dramatic mood swings, forgetfulness, confusion, and eventual physical debilitation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s – double the number of cases 30 years ago.
Late-onset Alzheimer’s is the most common form of this disease, affecting people who are age 60 or older. Because of the devastating effects of the illness for patients and their families, combined with the lack of sufficient treatment, identifying causes and risk-factors is a high priority for researchers. According to a WebMD article by Charlene Laino, the primary gene that had been associated with Alzheimer’s up to this point was ApoE4. About 40% of the 60-80% genetic cause of the disease is attributable to ApoE4, while an additional 5% may be explained by the new gene, MTHFD1L.
En route to discovering this new Alzheimer’s gene, researchers studied 2,269 people with late-onset Alzheimer’s and 3,107 people without the disease, as described in a HealthDay article by Jennifer Goodwin. The type of research used, called a genome-wide association study (GWAS), isolates differences in long stretches of DNA between subjects who have a particular disease and those who do not.
The discovery of this gene has brought us one step closer to being able to identify people who are at risk for developing Alzheimer’s, in hopes that it may be detected early on. This will be particularly useful once pharmaceutical treatments for the disease become available.
While no one can prevent the age- or genetic-related risk factors of Alzheimer’s, the National Institute on Aging has suggested that physical activity, brain teasers, and antioxidant-rich foods may non-definitively decrease your chances of developing Alzheimer’s later in life.
If you are interested in learning more about Alzheimer’s Disease, the National Institutes of Health will be sponsoring an Independent Panel to Present Alzheimer’s Disease and Cognitive Decline Prevention Findings on Wednesday, April 28. It will be held at the Natcher Conference Center on the main NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland, and available via webcast: http://videocast.nih.gov.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alzheimer’s Disease.” http://www.cdc.gov/aging/healthybrain/alzheimers.htm
Goodwin, Jennifer. “New Alzheimer’s Gene Identified.” HealthDay. http://www.healthday.com/Article.asp?AID=637979
Laino, Charlene. “New Alzheimer’s Gene Found.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/news/20100414/new-alzheimers-gene-identified
National Institute on Aging. “Can Alzheimer’s Disease be Prevented?” http://www.nia.nih.gov/Alzheimers/Publications/ADPrevented/
National Institutes of Health. http://www.nih.gov/news/health/apr2010/od-19.htm
WebMD. “Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease – The Basics.” http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/guide/understanding-alzheimers-disease-basics