Science Questions

Is Alzheimer's genetic?

Fri, 14th Dec 2012

Part of the show The Genetics of Brain and Behaviour


Paul Herrington, Facebook asked:

I came across something a few months ago about Alzheimer's and leaky blood vessels in the brain. Is this a genetic thing? And if so, might it be reversible and what are the hereditary factors?Ē so Paul adds that heís got a personal interest as his dad had Alzheimer's.


Dr John Rogers, Cambridge University  -   Well yes, there is some pathology around blood vessels in Alzheimer's disease. The main pathology in the brain is that there are abnormal proteins produced and deposited throughout the brain, but one of those is particularly deposited around blood vessels.  We donít yet know whether that really makes significant contribution to the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. 

Regarding the genetic control of it, yes, there is a gene which has significant influence on the incidence of Alzheimer's.  itís called ApoE and people who have a particular version of this, an allele called ApoE4 are several times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than people with other versions of the gene. 

However, I have to say, at present, it doesnít seem worth testing for this because there's nothing we can do about it, but it is one more reason why we should generally keep a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle because the main thing that ApoE does is to transport cholesterol into the brain. 

And there are some evidence that high cholesterol made from Alzheimer's disease as well as other ills that they affect us in our older years. 

There are many projects trying to use this kind of research to develop cures or prevention for Alzheimer's disease and some of these are in clinical trials, but nothing has been very successful as yet. 

So at the present, the best advice one can give is to keep intellectually active because itís known that people who are more intellectually active are less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease and to keep healthy lifestyles, keep physically active, and to try and keep oneís cholesterol low.


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