Alzheimer gene may boost young brains but contributes to 'burnout' in later years

November 13, 2012 by Jacqui Bealing
Brain activity in those with APOE e4 gene is more marked in the region of the brain associated with tasks involving attention.

(Medical Xpress)—A gene that confers a higher risk for dementia in old age could also promote better-than-average memory and verbal skills in youth, according to a new University of Sussex-led study.

Neuroscientists tested the cognitive abilities of those with a particular , known as 'APOE e4', found in approximately 25 per cent of the population, against those without it. They also looked at the and of both groups during the tasks.

They found that young people with the e4 variant performed better in attention tests (one involving episodic memory of words, the other requiring participants to spot number sequences), which correlated with increased task-related as detected by MRI scans. The researchers also noticed subtle differences in the white matter of the brains of those with the variant.

Lead researcher Professor Jennifer Rusted said: "Earlier studies suggested that those with the e4 variant outperform those without it in tasks such as memory, speed of processing, mental arithmetic and .  But it is also well-established that this gene is a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. The suggestion is that while this confers cognitive advantages in early life, leading to higher achievement, it may also increase susceptibility to memory failure as we enter old age.

"Our study is the first to show that subtle differences in the structure and activation of the brain during in APOE e4 carriers are linked to their cognitive performance. It is possible that the brain over-activations that we see in youth have negative effects over the longer term and contribute to a kind of 'burnout' in older adulthood."

The study, "APOE e4 polymorphism in young adults is associated with improved attention and indexed by distinct neural signatures," was funded by the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) and is published in NeuroImage.

Explore further: Malfunctioning protein a cause of Alzheimer's plaques

More information:

Related Stories

Malfunctioning protein a cause of Alzheimer's plaques

June 30, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- In a new study published in Science Translational Medicine, scientists from the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis reveal their discovery of a protein made by an Alzheimer’s gene ...

Recommended for you

Rat brain atlas provides MR images for stereotaxic surgery

October 21, 2016

Boris Odintsov, senior research scientist at the Biomedical Imaging Center at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, and Thomas Brozoski, research professor ...

Imaging technique maps serotonin activity in living brains

October 20, 2016

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that's partly responsible for feelings of happiness and for mood regulation in humans. This makes it a common target for antidepressants, which block serotonin from being reabsorbed by neurons ...

Overcoming egocentricity increases self-control

October 19, 2016

Neurobiological models of self-control usually focus on brain mechanisms involved in impulse control and emotion regulation. Recent research at the University of Zurich shows that the mechanism for overcoming egocentricity ...

Exercise may help ward off memory decline

October 19, 2016

Exercise may be associated with a small benefit for elderly people who already have memory and thinking problems, according to new research published in the October 19, 2016, online issue of Neurology, a medical journal of ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Nov 13, 2012
Great. Another thing to worry about.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.