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Trio of Gene Variants Discovered That May Raise Alzheimer's Risk
Date:9/6/2009

udy co-author Alison Goate, a professor of genetics in psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine and a member of the Alzheimer's Association Medical & Scientific Advisory Council.

Experts estimate that as many as 5.3 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease, which progressively kills brain cells. Alzheimer's typically attacks people over the age of 65. Symptoms include a range of cognitive, psychiatric and physical problems that eventually lead to death.

The sheer global impact of the illness and the lack of a cure were the driving forces behind the current research.

According to Amouyel, "the identification of these three genes has been possible, thanks to two major elements: first, the possibility to compare thousands of patients through a major collaboration between scientists; and second, the capacity to analyze genetic markers distributed all over the entire genome with high-tech tools, such as DNA chips."

Relatively little is known about how the newly discovered genes may increase the risk of Alzheimer's. But researchers have noted increased levels of CLU in the brains and cerebrospinal fluids of Alzheimer's patients. PICALM may play a role in the health of nerve cell synapses and may affect beta-amyloid deposits in the brain.

Each of the new genes probably contributes about 8 percent to an individual's risk of developing Alzheimer's, Goate said. In addition to genetic factors, there are likely to be environmental and lifestyle variables that also contribute to the risk, she noted.

"Identifying gene variants like CLU and PICALM advances our understanding of the many genetic factors that may contribute to overall risk for this devastating neurological disorder," Marcelle Morrison-Bogorad, associate director of NIA's neuroscience and neuropsychology of aging program, said in a statement. "This knowledge may then lead to novel disease pathways that can be targeted to deve
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