Genetics Influence Brain Aging
November 5, 2013

Research Confirms Age-Related Cognitive Decline Is Genetically Influenced

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The declining brain function that occurs during the normal aging process has been demonstrated for the first time to be genetically influenced in a large study sample, according to new research appearing in Monday’s edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Identification of genes associated with brain aging should improve our understanding of the biological processes that govern normal age-related decline,” explained Dr. John Blangero, a geneticist at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute and senior author of the study.

He and colleagues from Yale University examined large pedigrees including over 1,100 people between the ages of 18 and 83 who were enrolled in the Genetics of Brain Structure and Function Study. The authors reported that they were able to document profound aging effects on both neurocognitive ability and white matter measurements.

White matter plays an active role in how a person’s brain learns and operates, and genetic material shared in biological relatives seemingly foretold the brain-function changes observed with age, the researchers said. The subjects selected were members of large, San Antonio-based Mexican-American families.

“By applying a sophisticated analysis, the scientists demonstrated a heritable basis for neurocognitive deterioration with age that could be attributed to genetic factors. Similarly, decreasing white matter integrity with age was influenced by genes,” the Institute said in a statement. “The investigators further demonstrated that different sets of genes are responsible for these two biological aging processes.”

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the imaging work was completed at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio Research Imaging Institute. Dr. David Glahn, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, is credited as first author on the PNAS paper.

“The use of large human pedigrees provides a powerful resource for measuring how genetic factors change with age,” Blangero said. Glahn added that a “key advantage” of their research “is that we specifically focused on large extended families and so we were able to disentangle genetic from non-genetic influences on the aging process.”