Have Scientists Found the Genetic Source of Alzheimer’s Risk?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in the United States—affecting nearly 6 million people in the US alone (as of 2018)—but even as prevalent as it is, we still do know very much about it. Of course, there are lots of studies that are helping us to get a better idea how it works and how to treat it, and this week we have yet more data on what might cause it. 

A new study, from scientists at the University of Buffalo, used epigenetics to reveal a new—and quite hopeful—approach to Alzheimer’s treatment, one that could actually reverse the degenerative effects.

Lead study author Zhen Yan, PhD explains, “In this paper, we have not only identified the epigenetic factors that contribute to the memory loss, we also found ways to temporarily reverse them in an animal model of Alzheimer’s.”  

Epigenetics attempts to incite heritable changes in gene expression that are not involved with the base DNA sequence.  The method can be achieved by focusing attention on gene changes brought upon by influence aside from those underlying DNA sequences. 

Yan, who is a University of Buffalo Jacobs of School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, goes on to say, “We found that in Alzheimer’s disease, many subunits of glutamate receptors in the frontal cortex are downregulated, disrupting the excitatory signals, which impairs working memory.”

Essentially it is this devastating loss of glutamate receptors that results in this epigenetic process called repressive histone modification.  Research has found that this process is quite prevalent among Alzheimer’s patients.  

Yan continues, “This AD-linked abnormal histone modification is what represses gene expression, diminishing glutamate receptors, which leads to loss of synaptic function and memory deficits.”

Furthermore, this study contributes yet more data on the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.  At present, this histone discovery is promising, as are other studies about the link between Alzheimer’s disease and a certain type of periodontal infection as well as the link between Alzheimer’s disease and lack of sleep. 

The results of this study have been published in the journal Brain. 

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