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Researchers discover interesting effects of the so-called e4 gene
Alzheimer's disease is a neurodegenerative disease. In its most common form, Alzheimer's usually affects people over the age of 65. Researchers found that a special gene is related to the disease. A variant of this gene can probably be identified in our early childhood.
Scientists from the University of Hawaii and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have now found in an investigation that a gene associated with Alzheimer's disease can be identified in childhood. A special variant of the gene has negative effects on our brain structure. The doctors published the results of their study in the journal "Neurology".
The e4 gene can be identified in early childhood
The gene called APOE is linked to the development of Alzheimer's. A variant of this gene increases the risk of Alzheimer's even further. The so-called gene e4 has a strong impact on humans and can be identified even in the youngest childhood, explain the doctors.
The e4 gene worsens thinking and memory
Brain scans of young children showed that certain areas of the brain typically develop more slowly due to the e4 gene variant, the experts say in the study. These are the same brain regions that often stunt in people with Alzheimer's disease, explains study leader Dr. Linda Chang from the University of Hawaii. In some children with the e4 gene, tests showed that the ability to think and remember worked less well. This disadvantage disappeared again between the ages of eight and ten years. Dr. Chang suspects that people with the e4 gene are more susceptible to the “extremes of age”.
It is not necessary to test children for APOE variants
So far, the results have no immediate practical impact. There is no need for children to be tested for APOE variants today, says co-author Rebecca Knickmeyer of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Scientifically, the result of the study is very interesting. It is a fascinating idea that Alzheimer's could be a developmental disorder, the researchers explain.
Doctors are looking for ways to prevent it
If the assumptions are true, they will raise new questions for medical professionals around the world. If the disease can be identified in childhood, how can we stop the slowly progressing disease? According to co-author Knickmeyer, the question arises: could we intervene early on with some non-invasive approaches, such as nutrition or cognitive training?
There are three different variants of the APOE gene
The APOE gene has three different forms: e2, e3 and e4. Every person carries two copies of the gene. One gene is inherited from one parent. The E3 variant is the most common, more than three quarters of the population have at least one copy.
Only 14 percent of all people carry the e4 gene
Far fewer people carry the e4 variant. Only about 14 percent carry a copy of the e4 variant and only eight percent of people carry an e2 variant. If affected people carry a variant of e4, their risk of Alzheimer's disease increases. With two copies of the gene, the likelihood of Alzheimer's increases even further, the scientists explain.
People with the e4 gene do not automatically develop Alzheimer's
Because the E2 variant is so unusual and rare, its role remains relatively unclear, says Chang. However, there is evidence that this gene can lower the risk of dementia symptoms unless the person also carries a copy of the e4 gene. However, carrying an e4 variant does not automatically mean that you get Alzheimer's. For example, many people with Alzheimer's do not carry an e4 variant. There are also many people with an e4 variant who still do not develop Alzheimer's, the experts add.
Study scans the brains of nearly 1,200 children
The study was based on the MRI scans of almost 1,200 healthy children and adolescents. A total of 62 percent carried two copies of e3, say the doctors. A quarter of all subjects carried at least one copy of the e4 gene. Less than two percent of all participants had two e4 variants. Children with one or two copies of e4 typically had altered brain structures, the authors add.
Childhood brain disorders regenerate
The researchers also found that young children with two copies of e4, or one copy of e4 and one copy of e2, performed poorly on memory tests, brain teasers, and attention tests. This then changed again at the age of eight to ten years, the doctors explain.
A healthy diet and exercise can help protect our brains
It is extremely difficult to find out whether early intervention in life ultimately makes a difference in the risk of Alzheimer's. Studies would last for decades, would be logistically difficult to implement and, in addition, very expensive, says co-author Knickmeyer. The experts call for people to protect their brains by paying attention to a healthy diet, exercising a lot and trying to stay mentally active. For example, some medical professionals advise so-called brain jogging to prevent Alzheimer's. There are currently only a few treatment options for Alzheimer's disease. Damage to our brain cannot be reversed, ”Chang explains. (as)