Duke Medicine Study Supports Family History and Risk for Alzheimer’s

Close family members of people with Alzheimer’s disease are more than twice as likely as those without a family history to develop silent buildup of brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

A known risk factor and predictor of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, Family History, according to studies, suggest a two-to fourfold greater risk for Alzheimer’s in those with a mother, father, brother or sister who develop the disease.

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These first-degree relatives share close to 50 percent of their genes with another member of their family.

Common genetic variations like changes to the APOE gene account for nearly 50 percent of the heritability of Alzheimer’s, while the disease’s other genetic roots remain unexplained.

Published online in the journal PLOS ONE, the study confirms previous findings on a known genetic variation that increases an individual’s risk for Alzheimer’s, while also raising new questions regarding other genetic factors involved in the disease that are not yet identified.

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It is estimated that 25 million people have Alzheimer’s disease worldwide, with the number expected to triple by 2050. More than 95 percent of these individuals have late-onset Alzheimer’s, usually occuring after the age of 65.

“In this study, we sought to understand whether simply having a positive family history, in otherwise normal or mildly forgetful people, was enough to trigger silent buildup of Alzheimer’s plaques and shrinkage of memory centers,” said senior author P. Murali Doraiswamy, professor of psychiatry and medicine at Duke.

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Researchers at Duke Medicine contend that family members of people with Alzheimer’s disease are more than twice as likely than those without a family history to develop silent buildup of brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Erika J. Lampert, a Duke neuroscience research trainee, Doraiswamy and colleagues analyzed data from 257 adults, ages 55 to 89, both cognitively healthy and with varying levels of impairment. Participants were part of the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging initiative, a national study attempting to define the progression of Alzheimer’s through biomarkers.

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“We already knew that family history increases one’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s, but we now are showing that people with a positive family history may also have higher levels of Alzheimer’s pathology earlier, which could be a reason why they experience a faster cognitive decline than those without a family history,” Lampert said.

Funding for the study was provided in part by the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, a public-private partnership created with $60 million in grants from the National Institute on Aging , the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, the Food and Drug Administration, private pharmaceutical companies and non-profit organizations.

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