New research suggests that a gene associated with Alzheimer’s disease may show its effects on the brain and thinking skills as early as childhood, according to a study published today by the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology
The study involved 1,187 children aged between three to 20 years who took part in genetic tests and brain scans and undertook tests of thinking and memory skills. The children had no brain disorders or other problems that would affect their brain development.
The findings revealed that children with the higher-risk APOE4 gene had differences in their brain development on average compared to children with other forms of the APOE gene. The differences were seen in areas of the brain that are often affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, including the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute on Child Health and Human Development.
Ian Le Guillou, Research Officer at Alzheimer’s Society said: “These interesting findings suggest that people with the APOE4 gene – which increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease – have differences in their brains from childhood. However, we need to be cautious in interpreting these results as although this study involved over 1,000 children, there were less than 30 in the highest-risk group. We would need to see these results replicated in a larger group, as well as having longer term follow-ups to better understand how the changes in the brain progress with age.
“Everyone’s brain is slightly different and the trends found here could only be seen by taking the average across many people. We cannot say who will go on to develop dementia and having the APOE4 gene does not mean that you will. Although people with the gene are at an increased risk of dementia, there are still things they can do to lower their chances of developing the condition. This includes taking regular exercise, not smoking and keeping their blood pressure in check.”