Two research studies, co-led by UC Davis neurologist Charles DeCarli and conducted by an international team that included more than 80 scientists at 71 institutions in eight countries, has advanced understanding of the genetic components of Alzheimer's disease and of brain development. Both studies appear in the April 15 edition of the journal Nature Genetics.
The first study, based on a genetic analysis of more than 9,000 people, has found that certain versions of four genes may speed shrinkage of a brain region involved in making new memories. The brain area, known as the hippocampus, normally shrinks with age, but if the process speeds up, it could increase vulnerability to Alzheimer's disease, the research suggests.
The second paper identifies two genes associated with intracranial volume - the space within the skull occupied by the brain when the brain is fully developed in a person's lifespan, usually around age 20.
DeCarli is an internationally renowned pioneer in the field of neuroimaging of the aging brain who has been at the forefront of developing and using quantifiable imaging techniques to define the relationship between structure and function in the healthy aging brain and to characterize the changes associated with vascular and Alzheimer's dementias. He is professor of neurology and director of the UC Davis Alzheimer's Disease Center and the UC Davis Imaging of Dementia and Aging Laboratory.
GENETIC VARIANTS OF HIPPOCAMPUS STUDY
The gene variants identified in the first study do not cause Alzheimer's, but they may rob the hippocampus of a kind of "reserve" against the disease, which is known to cause cell destruction and dramatic shrinkage of this key brain site. The result is severe loss of memory and cognitive ability.