For more than 20 years, scientists have known that people with hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, or obesity have a higher likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The conditions can all affect the brain, damaging blood vessels and leading to strokes. But the connection between vascular disease in the brain and Alzheimer’s has remained unexplained despite the intense efforts of researchers.
Now, a study led by researchers at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons has uncovered a possible mechanism. The study found a gene called FMNL2 links cerebrovascular disease and Alzheimer’s and suggests changes in FMNL2 activity caused by cerebrovascular disease prevent the efficient clearance of toxic proteins from the brain, eventually leading to Alzheimer’s disease.
The finding could lead to a way to prevent Alzheimer’s in people with hypertension, diabetes, obesity, or heart disease.
“Not only do we have a gene, but we have a potential mechanism,” says senior author Richard Mayeux, MD, chair of neurology at Columbia and NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “People have been trying to figure this out for a couple of decades, and I think we have our foot in the door now. We feel there must be other genes involved and that we’ve just scratched the surface.”
Mayeux and his colleagues found FMNL2 in a genome-wide hunt designed to uncover genes associated with both vascular risk factors and Alzheimer’s disease. The search involved five groups of patients representing different ethnic groups.
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