Study: Effects of Alzheimer’s gene may appear during childhood

Photo: University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine
Photo: University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine

(KHON) — A new study shows a gene associated with Alzheimer’s disease and recovery after brain injury may show effects on the brain and thinking skills as early as childhood.

The study, published in the July 13, 2016, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, was authored by Dr. Linda Chang of the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine.

For the study, 1,187 children ages 3 to 20 years — many who lived here in Hawaii — had genetic tests and brain scans and took tests of thinking and memory skills. The children had no brain disorders or other problems that would affect their brain development, such as prenatal drug exposure.

Researchers found that children with any form of the epsilon4 variant of the apolipoprotein-E gene had differences in their brain development compared to children with other forms of the gene. The differences were seen in areas of the brain that are often affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

“If children have this particular variant of the gene, they actually already show abnormalities in the brain development very early on,” Chang said. “Some parts of the brain show slower development that catches up, but then other parts already show like smaller hippocampus, which is a part of the brain involved in memory… so those individuals might be at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life.”

Chang stresses that these findings don’t suggest parents get genetic tests on their children, because researchers are still trying to understand how the gene affects the brain.

“Until we have really validated method of preventing the disease or changing the course of the disease, it’s not appropriate to test everybody for it at this point,” Chang said. “By being able to identify who might be at risk, when we do have ways of preventing the disease or modifying the disease, it would be good to know as early as possible, so we can make the change.”

Click here to view the study online.

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