Clues to Alzheimer's risk seen in babies' brains
Those at higher risk of developing Alzeheimer’s may have recognizable brain differences as early as infancy.
So concludes a new study published in JAMA Neurology, which showed that babies with the gene APOE -e4—a gene that increases the risk of Alzheimer’s after age 65—had less brain growth and development in the middle and back of the brain than babies without the gene. These are the same areas that usually are affected by Alzheimer’s later in life. Instead, the babies’ growth was more prominent in the front part of the brain.
Researchers from Brown University scanned the brains of 162 healthy babies ages two months to two years who did not have a family history of Alzheimer’s or psychological disorders. The scans were conducted by a special MRI machine that is quiet enough to not disturb babies while they sleep. A higher percentage of participants had the APOE-e4 gene than a normal population segment.
Although the results were intriguing, researchers noted these findings are preliminary. It doesn’t mean that babies with the APOE-e4 gene will definitely develop Alzheimer’s. It’s still uncertain the role the gene plays in brain development, how it increases the risk for Alzheimer’s, and how treatment for the brain changes can prevent the disease. No current evidence indicates children with APOE-e4 have cognitive problems. More research is needed to determine how the gene may contribute to developing Alzheimer’s.