Alzheimer’s gene could show effects on brain from childhood, research suggests

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A study suggests that a gene associated with Alzheimer’s disease may show its effects on the brain and thinking skills as early as during childhood.

The new study, published by the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, involved 1187 children and young people between the ages of three- and 20-years-old. Researchers conducted genetic tests and brain scans and the participants also undertook thinking and memory skills tests. The children and young people involved in the study had no brain disorders or other problems that would affect their brain development.

The findings showed that children with the gene APOE4, which increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, had differences in their brain development on average compared to children with other forms of the APOE gene. The differences were seen in areas of the brain that are often affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, including the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Ian Le Guillou, Research Officer at Alzheimer’s Society, said that the findings suggest that people with the APOE4 gene have differences in their brains from childhood. He urged caution however, saying that further studies were needed.

“We need to be cautious in interpreting these results as although this study involved over 1000 children, there were less than 30 in the highest-risk group. We would need to see these results replicated in a larger group, as well as having longer term follow-ups to better understand how the changes in the brain progress with age,” he said.

“We cannot say who will go on to develop dementia and having the APOE4 gene does not mean that you will. Although people with the gene are at an increased risk of dementia, there are still things they can do to lower their chances of developing the condition. This includes taking regular exercise, not smoking and keeping their blood pressure in check.’