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Study explores how life experiences contribute to the biological changes of Alzheimer's
Date:9/30/2009

The National Institutes of Health has awarded Rush University Medical Center approximately $5.5 million in grants to study how epigenetic changes chemical modifications to genes that result from diet, aging, stress, or environmental exposures define and contribute to memory formation and cognitive decline. Results from the studies could profoundly alter the way the medical community understands, diagnoses, and treats Alzheimer's disease, according to the researchers.

Every cell in the body has the same genetic information. What makes cells, tissues and organs different are the epigenetic modifications, or marks, that turn genes on or off.

Researchers at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center hypothesize that the brain uses epigenetic marks to store memory and are exploring the relationship between life experiences known to affect memory abilities and changes in the epigenetic marks.

The study is motivated, in large part, from the center's work with two large, longitudinal studies of aging and dementia conducted over the past 15 years. Researchers at Rush have identified a wide range of life experiences that are related to loss of cognitive function and a clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease but are not associated with the neuropathologic hallmarks of the disease, the plaques and tangles that accumulate in the brain. These life experiences include socioeconomic status, psychological distress, and cognitive, physical, and social activities across the life span.

"We have found that while cognitive decline in old age often results from one or more of three common brain diseases, Alzheimer's disease, cerebrovascular disease and Lewy body disease, these conditions only account for about 20% of the variance of cognition in older persons," said Dr. David Bennett, director of the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center and principal investigator for the studies. "Thus, factors other than neuropathology must make important contributions t
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Contact: Kim Waterman
Kimberly_Waterman@rush.edu
312-942-7820
Rush University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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