New research is taking an early look at Alzheimer's disease and the effects it may have on a baby's brain.

Researchers have identified the gene variant APOE ε4 and its link to late-onset Alzheimer's disease. According to health experts, about 25 percent of Americans have the APOE ε4 variant. Not all of them will develop Alzheimer's disease, but of those who do, about 60 percent will carry at least one copy of the gene variant.

Researchers from Brown University and Banner Alzheimer’s Institute recently evaluated infants both for the presence of the APOE ε4 variant and any effects it may have on a baby's brain development. The study, published in JAMA Neurology, showed that infants who carry the gene show altered brain development compared to babies who do not carry the gene.  

The researchers imaged the brains of 162 babies between the ages of 2 months and 25 months to determine which babies, if any, carried a variant of the APOE gene. They found that 60 of the infants had the ε4 variant that has been linked to an increased risk of late-onset Alzheimer’s. Researchers then compared the brains of babies with the ε4 variant with those who did not carry the gene. They found that children who carry the APOE ε4 variant had increased brain growth in areas in the frontal lobe and decreased growth in the middle and rear of the brain — areas of the brain that tend to be affected in elderly patients who have Alzheimer’s disease.

“It may sound scary that we could detect these brain differences in infants,” said Dr. Eric Reiman, executive director of the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Arizona and lead researcher of the study.  “But it is our sincere hope that an understanding of the earliest brain changes involved in the predisposition to Alzheimer’s will help researchers find treatments to prevent the clinical onset of Alzheimer’s disease — and do so long before these children become senior citizens.”

Source: Bioscience Technology

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