Molecular switches age-related memory decline? Genetic variant protect against brain aging

May 6, 2014
Credit: Public Domain

Even among the healthiest individuals, memory and cognitive abilities decline with age. This aspect of normal aging can affect an individual's quality of life and capability to live independently but the rate of decline is variable across individuals. There are many factors that can influence this trajectory, but perhaps none more importantly than genetics.

Scientists are seeking to identify key molecular switches that control age-related . When new molecules are identified as critical to the process of , they are then tested to determine whether they contribute to the of the elderly.

One of these proteins is called KIBRA and the gene responsible for its production is WWC1. KIBRA is known to play a role in human memory and so researchers at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development and the National Institute of Mental Health, led by senior author Dr. Venkata Mattay, conducted a study to determine the effects of genetic variants in WWC1 on memory. Their findings are published in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry.

"Identifying these genetic factors, while helping us better understand the neurobiology of cognitive aging, will also aid in identifying mechanisms that confer individuals with resilience to withstand the inevitable age-related changes in neural architecture and function," explained Mattay.

Using imaging genetics, a method that combines genetics with brain imaging technology, the team explored the effect of a variant in the WWC1 gene on age-related changes in memory function. The particular WWC1 variant under investigation has three potential forms – CC, TT, or CT.

They recruited 233 healthy volunteers, who ranged in age from 18-89 years. The volunteers completed a battery of cognitive tests, underwent genotyping, and completed a memory task during a brain imaging scan.

They found that individuals who carry the T allele, as either CT or TT, performed better on the and showed more active engagement in the hippocampus, a vital brain region for memory, with increasing age.

"Our results show a dynamic relationship between this gene and increasing age on hippocampal function and episodic memory with the non-T allele group showing a significant decline across the ," said Mattay. "A similar relationship was not observed in the T-allele carrying group suggesting that this variant of the gene may confer a protective effect."

Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry, commented, "The risk mechanisms for age-related memory impairment that we identify today may become the targets for the prevention and treatment of this problem in the future."

Explore further: Gene variant leads to better memory via increased brain activation

More information: The article is "WWC1 Genotype Modulates Age-Related Decline in Episodic Memory Function Across the Adult Life Span" by John Muse, Matthew Emery, Fabio Sambataro, Herve Lemaitre, Hao-Yang Tan, Qiang Chen, Bhaskar S. Kolachana, Saumitra Das, Joseph H. Callicott, Daniel R. Weinberger, and Venkata S. Mattay (DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.09.036). The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 75, Issue 9 (May 1, 2014)

Related Stories

Gene variant leads to better memory via increased brain activation

October 17, 2011
Carriers of the so-called KIBRA T allele have better memories than those who don't have this gene variant. This means we can reject the theory that the brain of a non-bearer compensates for this. This is shown by researchers ...

Physical activity keeps hippocampus healthy in people at risk for Alzheimer's disease

April 23, 2014
A study of older adults at increased risk for Alzheimer's disease shows that moderate physical activity may protect brain health and stave off shrinkage of the hippocampus– the brain region responsible for memory and spatial ...

Extreme sleep durations may affect brain health in later life

May 1, 2014
A new research study led by Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) published in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in May, shows an association between midlife and later life sleeping habits with memory; and links ...

Your brain is fine-tuning its wiring throughout your life

February 3, 2014
The white matter microstructure, the communication pathways of the brain, continues to develop/mature as one ages. Studies link age-related differences in white matter microstructure to specific cognitive abilities in childhood ...

Plaque build-up in your brain may be more harmful than having Alzheimer's gene

October 15, 2012
A new study shows that having a high amount of beta amyloid or "plaques" in the brain associated with Alzheimer's disease may cause steeper memory decline in mentally healthy older people than does having the APOE ɛ4 allele, ...

Inflammation and cognition in schizophrenia

November 1, 2012
There are a growing number of clues that immune and inflammatory mechanisms are important for the biology of schizophrenia. In a new study in Biological Psychiatry, Dr. Mar Fatjó-Vilas and colleagues explored the impact ...

Recommended for you

Visual clues we use during walking and when we use them

July 25, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers with the University of Texas and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has discovered which phase of visual information processing during human walking is used most to guide the feet accurately. ...

Psychopaths are better at learning to lie, say researchers

July 25, 2017
Individuals with high levels of psychopathic traits are better at learning to lie than individuals who show few psychopathic traits, according to a study published in the open access journal Translational Psychiatry. The ...

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

July 25, 2017
Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

Higher cognitive abilities linked to greater risk of stereotyping

July 24, 2017
People with higher cognitive abilities are more likely to learn and apply social stereotypes, finds a new study. The results, stemming from a series of experiments, show that those with higher cognitive abilities also more ...

Exposure to violence hinders short-term memory, cognitive control

July 24, 2017
Being exposed to and actively remembering violent episodes—even those that happened up to a decade before—hinders short-term memory and cognitive control, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National ...

Researchers pave new path toward preventing obesity

July 24, 2017
People who experience unpredictable childhoods due to issues such as divorce, crime or frequent moves face a higher risk of becoming obese as adults, according to a new study by a Florida State University researcher.

0 comments

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.