Women who have this gene could be at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s, study says

David Duprey/AP
·2 min read

A team of researchers at the University of Chicago and Boston University say they’ve discovered a gene that could increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in women.

The study, published June 30 in Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, reveals that a gene called MGMT may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s in women.

The findings are significant because they demonstrate the existence of “one of a few and perhaps the strongest associations of a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s that is specific to women,” Lindsay Farrer, chief of biomedical genetics at the Boston University School of Medicine and a senior author of the study, said in a news release.

Researchers undertook a genome-wide association study for Alzheimer’s in two different data sets and with two methods, the release said. One data set examined the history of dementia in “a large extended family of Hutterites,” a “founder population” of people hailing from central Europe who later settled in the midwestern region of the U.S..

Researchers chose to look at this group because it has a relatively small gene pool resulting from its insular culture. When studying this group, researchers found that all the people within the data set who had Alzheimer’s were women, according to the release.

They also evaluated a data set of 10,340 women who lacked the allele APOE ε4, which is the most well-known genetic variant associated with Alzheimer’s in people 65 and older, researchers said. The second data set showed researchers that the presence of the MGMT gene was “significantly associated” with developing Alzheimer’s.

“This finding is particularly robust because it was discovered independently in two distinct populations using different approaches,” Farrer said. “While the finding in the large dataset was most pronounced in women who don’t have APOE ε4, the Hutterite sample was too small to evaluate this pattern with any certainty.”

Researchers further evaluated the gene and found that the “epigenetically regulated gene expression,” or “ways cells control gene activity without changing the DNA sequence,” of MGMT is strongly associated with the development of proteins that are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s, the release said.

Alzheimer’s disorder is the most common cause of dementia and affects more than 5.8 million people in the U.S., according to the release. Almost two-thirds of people in the U.S. who have Alzheimer’s are women, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and women in their 60s are about twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as they are breast cancer.

The findings of the study demonstrate the importance of looking for risk factors for Alzheimer’s that could vary on the basis of gender, the release said. More research is needed to figure out what risk factors may be more pronounced in men.

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