The gene that predisposes some people to Alzheimer’s Disease can be detected as early as infancy. A recent study shows that an Alzheimer’s risk gene, when present, can affect the brain development of infants and children.
The study published in the November 25, 2013 issue of JAMA Neurology shows that babies born with the gene APOE -e4 had less brain growth and development in the same areas affected by Alzheimer’s later in life. They also had more brain growth in the front parts of their brains. The APOE -e4 gene is a gene that increases the risk of Alzheimer’s after the age of 65.
A research team from Brown University analyzed the brains of over 160 healthy babies while they slept using a quiet MRI machine. The babies ranged from two months to twenty five months, and none had a family history of Alzheimer’s or any psychological disorders. The parents were not told if their child carried the APOE -e4 gene.
Paving the Way for Prevention
The study shows some of the earliest brain changes caused by this gene and also raises important questions about how this gene impacts brain development and how that may or may not play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. About 25% of the entire American population has this gene but not all of those will develop Alzheimer’s. The gene is present in about 60% of people who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
The results are definitely interesting but still remain preliminary. “These results do not establish a direct link to the changes seen in Alzheimer’s patients,” study researcher Sean Deoni, who oversees the Advanced Baby Imaging Lab at Brown University, said in a statement. “But with more research, they may tell us something about how the gene contributes to Alzheimer’s risk later in life,” Deoni said. There is no guarantee that the babies with the gene will develop Alzheimer’s and no evidence suggests that children with the APOE -e4 gene have any cognitive issues. Although more research is needed, this study can be used for future hypotheses creation and to launch more in depth studies that lead to prevention, and ultimately, eradication of the disease.