Newly Discovered Gene Links Memory Loss, Brain Atrophy in 50 Year Olds
The heat is on to find new ways to fight Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists predict the disease will quadruple over the next 40 years. By the year 2050, they believe one out of every 85 people will have it. That totals 107 million people worldwide.
Those same scientists are working to delay the onset of the disease. They say delaying the onset by just two years will reduce those figures by 23 million people.
Nearly 4,000 scientists from around the world gathered in Hawaii this month to share their latest findings on Alzheimer’s disease. The hot topic was a newly identified risk gene that affects brain function.
The new gene – TOMM40 – increases memory loss and decreases brain volume. And that’s for people who are still in their early 50s.
Dr. Mark Sager and Professor Sterling Johnson presented their findings at the conference. Both had conducted related-but-independent studies on the gene. Both studies were conducted by the University of Wisconsin Medical School.
“TOMM40 [allows] us to find evidence of [the] disease at least 20 years before people show symptoms,” says Dr. Sager. “This is a step forward in Alzheimer’s prevention research.”
Younger People Suffering Memory Loss
The first study was headed up by Dr. Sager and his team. They set up a series of tests for 726 people. All of the participants were healthy people, in their early 50s, without dementia.
But each participant had a family history of Alzheimer’s disease. And everyone had the TOMM40 gene.
Dr. Sager and his team set up two study groups. The first group – 229 in all – had a high-risk version of the gene. The second group had a low-risk version of it.
Each participant then tackled a series of memory and learning tests. The results were clear and conclusive: the high risk group performed consistently weaker on the tests.
“The deficits shown by the high risk group are similar to the changes in memory and learning seen in very early Alzheimer’s,” says Dr. Sager.
Gene Reduces Brain Volume
In the second study, Professor Johnson and his team linked brain cell loss to the gene.
He too looked at a group of healthy, middle- aged adults with the gene. He split the groups into two. One group had the high risk version of the gene; the other group had the low risk version.
Professor Johnson used brain imaging technology to look at the brain volume of each group. He concentrated on the two regions of the brain that are affected early in Alzheimer’s disease. In every case he found the high risk group had much less gray matter than those in the low risk group.
“The research suggests that the group with the high-risk version of TOMM40 may be having early signs of brain changes related to Alzheimer’s,” he says.
He believes the gene is a “neuro signature” for Alzheimer’s disease.
“This is the first study to associate TOMM40 to brain imaging in people at risk for Alzheimer’s disease,” he says. “The gene will be a useful measure of Alzheimer’s disease risk in middle-age.”
He noted that the differences in the brain were similar to those seen in Alzheimer’s patients.
“These are exciting results,” says Professor William Thies, the Chief Medical and Scientific Officer at the Alzheimer’s Association. “The exact role that TOMM40 plays in Alzheimer’s remains to be determined. The story of TOMM40 may give us new insights into Alzheimer’s disease.”
Linking Genes Together
The two new studies confirm research that began last year. A study by Dr. Allen Roses first revealed findings about TOMM40.
Dr. Roses headed up the project for Duke University Medical Center. It was his research that identified the new gene.
He spoke about his findings at the 2009 International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease. While there he said that the gene could predict the risk of developing the disease. He also believed that the gene could show the age when patients would develop Alzheimer’s.
“A genetic test and MRI could provide a healthy middle-aged person with an assessment of their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.
“These findings provide the basis for conducting a prevention trial,” he said. “That can be done in a fraction of the time than previous efforts.”
Dr. Roses is leading his colleagues in this field. He’s the scientist who first linked APOE4 genes to Alzheimer’s disease. APOE4 genes established a lower age of onset for Alzheimer’s disease.
Both his research and the new studies open the door to early Alzheimer’s detection.
“It now looks clear that there are two genes,” says Dr. Roses. “APOE4 and TOMM40. Together they account for 85 to 90 percent of the genetic effect.”
Dr. Roses is currently working on a five-year study of Alzheimer’s disease. His study will use clinical trials to find ways to delay the disease’s onset.
And there’s even better news than that…
The Hawaii conference confirmed reports that vitamin D may be your best defense against the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Find out how the sunshine vitamin can boost memory and brain function in the next edition of our premier health advisory service, Natural Health Dossier.
In the meantime, get an early jump on that much-needed sunshine supplement. The Vitamin D Council recommends you take a Vitamin D3 supplement. This supplement boosts brain function and your immune system. It also promotes improved heart health and strengthens bones. The Council promotes Vitamin D3 Plus. Check it out here.
To your health,
Managing Editor, NHD “Health Watch”