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Alzheimer's risk gene disrupts brain's wiring 50 years before disease hits

distinct profile of lower white matter integrity that may increase vulnerability to developing the disease later in life.

The discovery of what this gene does is interesting on several levels, said Thompson, the senior author of the study.

"For example, Alzheimer's has traditionally been considered a disease marked by neuronal cell loss and widespread gray-matter atrophy," he said. "But degeneration of myelin in white-matter fiber pathways is more and more being considered a key disease component and another possible pathway to the disease, and this discovery supports that."

Thompson said four things are surprising with the discovery of this gene's function:

  1. This risk gene damages your brain a full 50 years before people normally get Alzheimer's. The damage can be seen on an MRI scan, but there are no symptoms yet.

  2. It's now known what this mysterious gene does namely, make your brain wiring vulnerable to attack by impairing the wiring before any senile plaques or tangles develop.

  3. Rather than being a gene that few people have, a whopping 88 percent of Caucasians have it. "So I guess you could say the other 12 percent have an 'Alzheimer's resistance gene' that protects their brain wiring," said Thompson, who is also a member of UCLA's Laboratory of Neuro Imaging and the UCLA Brain Research Institute.

  4. Finally, he said, knowing the role of this gene is useful in predicting a person's risk of the disease and in seeing if you can step in and protect the brain in the 50-year time window you have before the disease begins to develop.

Of course, the obvious question is if most of us have this "bad" gene, why isn't Alzheimer's rampant in young people?

Less myelination in CLU-C carriers may not translate into poorer cognition in youth, said Thompson, because the brain can compensate. "The brain has a lot of built in redundancy miles and miles o

Contact: Mark Wheeler
University of California - Los Angeles

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