DETROIT Efforts to understand how the aging process affects the brain and cognition have expanded beyond simply comparing younger and older adults.
"Everybody ages differently. By looking at genetic variations and individual differences in markers of vascular health, we begin to understand that preventable factors may affect our chances for successful aging," said Wayne State University psychology doctoral student Andrew Bender, lead author of a study supported by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health and now in press in the journal Neuropsychologia.
The report, "Age-related Differences in Memory and Executive Functions in Healthy APOE ε4 Carriers: The Contribution of Individual Differences in Prefrontal Volumes and Systolic Blood Pressure," focuses on carriers of the ε4 variant of the apolipoprotein (APOE) gene, present in roughly 25 percent of the population. Compared to those who possess other forms of the APOE gene, carriers of the ε4 allele are at significantly greater risk for Alzheimer's, dementia and cardiovascular disease.
Many studies also have shown that nondemented carriers of the APOE ε4 variant have smaller brain volumes and perform less well on cognitive tests than carriers of other gene variants. Those findings, however, are not consistent, and a possible explanation may come from examining interactions between the risky genes and other factors, such as markers of cardiovascular health. Prior research in typical samples of older adults has shown that indeed other vascular risk factors such as elevated cholesterol, hypertension or diabetes can exacerbate the impact of the APOE ε4 variant on brain and cognition, but it is unclear if such synergy of risks is present in healthy adults.
Thus, Wayne State researchers evaluated a group of volunteers from 19 to 77 years of age who self-reported as exceptionally healthy on a questionnaire that screened
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Wayne State University - Office of the Vice President for Research