-- Robert Preidt
WEDNESDAY, May 18 (HealthDay News) -- A gene allele that
increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease starts to damage the
brain 50 years before symptoms of the disease appear, a new study
An allele is one of two or more forms of a gene.
In 2009, scientists concluded that the clusterin (CLU) gene
boosts the chances of Alzheimer's disease by 16 percent, but it
wasn't clear how it increased risk.
This new study concluded that the C-allele of the CLU gene
impairs development of myelin, the protective covering around the
axons of neurons in the brain. This impairs brain wiring and can
make a person more vulnerable to the onset of Alzheimer's later in
About 88 percent of whites have the CLU C-allele, according to
the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers.
For this study, they used a newer type of MRI to map the
connections in the brains of nearly 400 healthy adults aged 20 to
30. The scans revealed that participants with the CLU C-allele had
lower white matter integrity than those with a different variant
called the CLU T-allele.
The findings are interesting on several levels, according to
senior study author Paul Thompson, a professor of neurology.
"For example, Alzheimer's has traditionally been considered a disease marked by neuronal cell loss and widespread gray matter atrophy," he said in a UCLA news release. "But degeneration of the myelin in white matter fiber pathways is more and more being considered a key disease component and another possible pathway to the disease, and this discovery supports that."
Understanding the effects of the CLU C-allele could lead to ways
to intervene and protect the brain in the decades before
Alzheimer's develops, Thompson suggested.
The study appears in the current online edition of the
Journal of Neuroscience.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
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