Carrying a genetic risk for dementia: cognitive and neural signatures of the APOE e4 gene in mid-age
It is predicted that by 2025,1million people in the UK will suffer from dementia, but we still have no cure or effective treatment. This is one of the reasons I became interested in this field. There has been a great deal of research into Alzheimer’s but an understanding of exactly what causes the disease has yet to be discovered.
Research has shown that carriers of a particular gene called APOE e4 (roughly 14% of the population) are 12 times more likely to develop the disease than non-carriers. The cognitive pro le of e4-carriers also changes across the lifespan, with younger e4 carriers showing cognitive advantage over their non-carrier peers, followed by a reversal in cognitive abilities later in life.
My IRP focused on a mid-aged population, as this is where there may be important changes to cognitive function, and a potential time where intervention could help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s.
I recruited healthy mid-aged people to the study; they were a mixture of e4 carriers
and non-carriers, but this was blinded to the participants and the researchers to reduce bias and maintain confidentiality. I scanned the participants’ brains using functional MRI while they performed memory tasks. The overall results showed reduced activity in areas of the brain involved in memory, such as the hippocampus, in e4 carriers. It is possible this represents the early effects of Alzheimer’s disease in certain parts of the brain, before any cognitive changes are noted. This has helped us understand the disease process, even before the onset of Alzheimer’s, and may assist in the future development of preventative treatment.
It was a great opportunity for me to further my interest in Alzheimer’s disease and
get some research experience, as well
as contribute to the expanding literature on the e4 gene.