It's In the Genes

Gene found to influence development of Alzheimer's

July 10, 2011 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) A protein created by a gene that causes Alzheimer’s disease prevents the brain from ridding itself of amyloid beta, the main culprit in the plaques and tangles that are hallmarks of the disease.

Apolipoprotein E, or APOE, interferes with the brain’s ability to clear these dangerous tangles, according to research from the Washington University School of Medicine. The scientists analyzed APOE genes in almost 300 healthy humans, also using scans and spinal fluid to determine the amount of plaques and tangles these participants had.

The volunteers who had a particular form of this gene were more likely to have plaques in their brain, even though these participants were healthy. Brain changes that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease begin to occur 10 to 15 years before the symptoms appear.

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After this portion of the study, the researchers didn’t know exactly why the presence of the APOE gene was contributing to tangles in the brain. Next, scientists studied mice genetically altered to develop Alzheimer’s symptoms and also have the gene.

They found that the mice who had this particular gene cleared amyloid beta more slowly, allowing signs of Alzheimer's to slowly appear.

This finding sheds some light on Alzheimer’s risk factors and might lead to the development of medications, said the researchers, including Dr. David Holtzman, professor and head of the neurology department at Washington University.

The study appears in a recent issue of Science Translational Medicine.

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Review Date: 
July 6, 2011
Last Updated:
July 10, 2011