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Scientists find new genetic clue to cause of Alzheimer's disease

Variations in a gene known as SORL1 may be a factor in the development of late onset Alzheimer's disease, an international team of researchers has discovered. The genetic clue, which could lead to a better understanding of one cause of Alzheimer's, is reported in Nature Genetics online, Jan. 14, 2007, and was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The researchers suggest that faulty versions of the SORL1 gene contribute to formation of amyloid plaques, a hallmark sign of Alzheimer's in the brains of people with the disease. They identified 29 variants that mark relatively short segments of DNA where disease-causing changes could lie. The study did not, however, identify specific genetic changes that result in Alzheimer's.

Richard Mayeux, M.D., of Columbia University, Lindsay Farrer, Ph.D., of Boston University, and Peter St. George-Hyslop, M.D., of the University of Toronto, led the study, which involved 14 collaborating institutions in North America, Europe and Asia, and 6,000 individuals who donated blood for genetic typing. The work was funded by NIH's National Institute on Aging (NIA) and National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), as well as by 18 other international public and private organizations.

"We do not fully understand what causes Alzheimer's disease, but we know that genetic factors can play a role," says NIA director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. "Scientists have previously identified three genes, variants of which can cause early onset Alzheimer's, and one that increases risk for the late onset form. This discovery provides a completely new genetic clue about the late onset forms of this very complex disease. We are eager to investigate the role of this gene further."

Scientists think that in Alzheimer's disease, amyloid precursor protein, or APP, is processed into amyloid beta protein fragments that make up plaques in the brain. The researchers began their search for genetic influences amid a
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Source:NIH/National Institute on Aging


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