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A Possible Cause of Age-Related Memory Decline

Research done at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development in Baltimore, MD and the National Institute of Mental Health suggests that one cause of age-related memory decline is a protein called KIBRA and the gene responsible for its production is WWC1. KIBRA is known to play a role in human memory. The study was published in the May 2014 issue of Biological Psychiatry.

A release from the publisher quotes senior author Dr. Venkata Mattay as saying, “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.”  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.

The team 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.

The researchers found that people who carry the T allele, as either CT or TT, performed better on the memory task 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 adult life span,” 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.”
 

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