SUNDAY, April 3 (HealthDay News) -- The identification of five new genes associated with Alzheimer's disease is a major advance that will help improve understanding of what causes the condition, say the scientists who pinpointed the genes.

Each of the genes individually contributes to the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, according to the studies in the April 3 issue of Nature Genetics.

The five genes -- MS4A, CD2AP, CD33, EPHA1 and ABCA7 -- were identified after the team of scientists from 44 universities and research institutions in the United States analyzed genetic data from more than 54,000 people.

Until this discovery, only four other genes had been confirmed to be associated with Alzheimer's.

"This is the culmination of years of work on Alzheimer's disease by a large number of scientists, yet it is just the beginning in defining how genes influence memory and intellectual function as we age. We are all tremendously excited by our progress so far, but much remains to be done, both in understanding the genetics and in defining how these genes influence the disease process," study leader Gerard D. Schellenberg, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, said in a Penn news release.

He and his colleagues in the Alzheimer's Disease Genetics Consortium also contributed to the identification of a fifth Alzheimer's-related gene by other groups of scientists in Europe and the United States.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about Alzheimer's disease.