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BUSM researchers identify genes that influence hippocampal volume
Date:4/15/2012

(Boston) An international team of researchers led by Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) has identified four loci that appear to be associated with decreasing the volume of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the region of the brain that plays an important role in the formation of specific, new memories, which is an ability that patients with Alzheimer's disease lose. The findings may have broad implications in determining how age, Alzheimer's disease and other diseases impact the function and integrity of the hippocampus.

Sudha Seshadri, MD, professor of neurology at BUSM, is a senior author of the study, which will be published online in Nature Genetics.

Previous research has shown that the hippocampus is one of the brain regions involved with short and long-term memory processes and that it shrinks with age. It also is one of the first regions to exhibit damage from Alzheimer's disease, which can cause memory problems and disorientation.

"One of the problems with studying the genetics of a disease like Alzheimer's, which becomes symptomatic later in life, is that many people die of other causes before they reach the age at which they might have manifested the clinical dementia associated with the disease," said Seshadri. "To get around this issue, we have been studying the genetics of traits that we know are associated with a high future risk of Alzheimer's disease but that can be measured in everyone, often 10 to 20 years before the age when most persons develop clinical symptoms."

The potential genetic traits are called endophenotypes, and hippocampal volume is one such trait. The hippocampus shrinks before and during the progression of Alzheimer's disease, but other factors, such as vascular risk factors and normal aging, also lead to the decrease in size.

"Our research team wanted to pinpoint the genetic causes of changes in the hippocampal volume in a sample of apparently normal older perso
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Contact: Jenny Eriksen
jenny.eriksen@bmc.org
617-638-6841
Boston University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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