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Genetic risk of Alzheimer’s disease: Education provides protection

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Education provides a protective barrier against Alzheimer’s, even for those with a genetic predisposition to it. Image credit: Goroden Koff/Getty Images.
  • New research from Mass General Brigham challenges the idea that genetics is the main factor controlling the risk of Alzheimer’s, especially those who are prone to the early forms of the disease.
  • The study analyzed data from 675 pregnant women PSEN1 E280A a genetic mutation, which often leads to Alzheimer’s symptoms that appear around the age of 49.
  • While those with additional high-risk mutations experience faster cognitive decline, researchers have found that access to higher education can act as a protective factor, slowing the rate of dementia even with strong genetic risk factors.

In a new study, published in Nature Communicationand led by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital at Harvard Medical School, the authors explain that genetics is only one factor in the risk equation for Alzheimer’s disease, even in forms of the disease with a large genetic component.

Scientists tested the role of genetics and education level in dementia by analyzing data from 675 people with a genetic mutation called PSEN1 E280A, which makes them susceptible to early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Those with this mutation begin to show symptoms of dementia around age 49.

The researchers found that people with this mutation also had a second mutation that increases the risk – APOE e4 – experienced rapid onset of cognitive decline.

Conversely, those with protection APOE e2 The change saw a delay in mental symptoms.

The research team also examined how the level of education influenced the cognitive abilities of people who carried the i PSEN1 E280A genetic mutations, including those with different types APOE genetic variation.

Their results suggested that greater educational attainment, or more years of schooling, was associated with better cognitive function, particularly in those at high genetic risk for the disease.

Read first author Dr. Stephanie Langella, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, spoke to her. Medical News Todaystating that “in people with genetically determined Alzheimer’s disease, the onset of health and cognitive impairment is influenced by other genetic factors and years of education.”

“Higher education (years of education) was protective against strong risk factors for Alzheimer’s and may be an important form of brain maintenance for those at genetic risk.”

– Dr. Stephanie Langella

Dr. Yakeel T. Quiroz, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, a corresponding author of the study, and a clinical neuropsychologist and neuroimaging researcher at the Massachusetts General Hospital, emphasized that having more years of education can act as a defense against cognitive decline, even if it is strong. Genetic predispositions exist.

“Our results show that increasing education may be one way to preserve cognitive function in people at risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Quiroz explained.

Even with the added risk from APOE e4the most important genetic risk factor for non-familial Alzheimer’s disease, these results show that the level of education can act as an important factor in mental health in familial forms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Sumeet Kumar, a geneticist and founder of, who was not involved in the research, told MNT that this study “provided important insights into the complex interactions between genes and environmental factors in Autosomal Dominant Alzheimer’s Disease (ADAD).”

“Although a person may be genetically predisposed to developing ADAD, the course of the disease can be influenced by other genes such as APOE and environmental issues such as access to education. This is enlightening because it opens up avenues for targeted intervention. Educational programs can be strategically designed as preventive measures, especially for those at genetic risk. “

– Dr. Sumeet Kumar

“However, it is important to put in context that there are limitations to this study, including its cross-sectional design and the lack of data for certain variables,” said Dr. Kumar. “Furthermore, the extent to which these findings can be generalized to other types of Alzheimer’s remains unclear.”

“Despite these caveats, the study holds promise for future research to elucidate the biological mechanisms behind these observed patterns and the development of interventions tailored to individual risk profiles,” he said.

“This could lead to more humane approaches to Alzheimer’s care, aligning with the wider shift towards more precise treatments in neurodegenerative diseases,” said Dr. Kumar.

Dr. James Giordano, professor of neurology and biochemistry from the Pellegrino Center at Georgetown University Medical Center, who was also not involved in the research, agreed, saying that “this research is very interesting, well done, and well explained that shows the dynamic relationship between genes, anatomical features and physiological, and natural conditions.”

In other words, it describes more the interaction of “nature by nurture,” that is, the genetic basis acts as something like a blueprint, which depends, at least in part on the environmental variables of all life, physical expression. Anatomical, and physiological characteristics in health and disease. “

– Dr. James Giordano

Dr. Giordano said “the main implication of this research is that genes that express different traits can be modified, to some extent, in aspects of life.”

In particular, it suggests that ongoing mental and behavioral challenges (such as those inherent in education, and learning and incorporating new knowledge, and skills) can be achieved. [the] a useful opportunity to preserve the power of understanding. “

The study was a collaborative effort involving researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Mass Eye and Ear, and national and international partners.

The results of their research support those of a previous study completed by researchers at Tohoku University in Senda, Japan, which showed that people who took adult education classes in middle-aged to old age were less likely to develop cognitive impairment or experience cognitive decline.

Both studies show dynamic relationships between multiple factors. However, it is important to note that not everyone has the same access to higher education, which means that developing appropriate interventions can be challenging.

Addressing health and equity in education is a complex task that requires collective efforts from various stakeholders; including government agencies, academic institutions, non-profits, and the public.

However the benefits seem clear not only from an educational perspective but from a health and wealth perspective, as well.

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