In a study destined to generate some controversy, researchers at Brown University and Banner Alzheimer’s Institute have identified significant differences in the brain scans of babies (ages 2 months to 25 months), based on their APOE4 gene status, a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
A total of 162 sleeping babies underwent MRI brain scans that recorded brain development markers – white matter myelin water fraction (MWF) and gray matter volume (GMV) in several brain regions.
The results showed that the infants who were APOE4 carriers had lower MWF and GMV readings in brain areas affected by Alzheimer’s, compared to infants that did not have the APOE4 gene type.
So does this study predict which infants will develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life as adults? No, of course not.
But it does raise some very interesting issues on the interplay between genetic risk factors (the copies of genes you receive from your parents), and environmental risk factors (access to education, diet & exercise choices, concussion history, etc).
The Brown University study moves us towards a “lifespan” view of neurological diseases – that based on the human genetic lottery, a particular person’s brain simply may be more vulnerable to brain diseases during his or her lifetime.
The challenge (and opportunity), then becomes to identify the most useful interventions (both pharmacological and lifestyle) that can improve brain health, using personal genome information to guide choices along the way.
The next decade will be very interesting on this front!
See also: Take the Healthy Brain Test