Study Links Alzheimer’s Risk Factors to Learning Ability Differences in Children

Study Led by Scripps Researcher Finds Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease May Be Linked with Learning Ability Differences in Children

San Diego – A first-of-its-kind research study led by a researcher at the Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) suggests the presence of two known risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) may be associated with subtle learning ability differences in children. The study will be published in the Nov. 15, 2008 edition of the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Lead author of the study Cinnamon Bloss, Ph.D. of STSI, together with colleagues from the University of California, San Diego, recruited children between 11 and 16 years of age for the study and administered a series of age-appropriate cognitive tests. They found the children who possessed the two risk factors for AD — the genetic variant APOE4 and a family history of AD — performed less well on nearly every test, relative to the children without these two risk factors.

“Over the past decade, scientists in the aging field have discovered that mild differences in brain and cognitive functioning are associated with risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease in healthy young adults, but previous work has not looked at a possible influence of these risk factors in children,” said Bloss.

Bloss emphasized that the learning ability differences identified in the study were very subtle, and that all test scores were still within the average range. She also stressed that these data do not suggest that these children already have AD, nor that the poorer test performance of the children is directly related to any future risk for their developing AD.

However, the study does highlight some features of the biology of AD that are frequently overlooked. First, that there is more to the neurobiology of AD than “plaques and tangles,” which are cellular markers of this disease when brain tissue is studied directly. It is very unlikely that these children have any of the typical cellular changes associated with AD. Second, scientists are accustomed to thinking of APOE4 solely as a risk factor for AD, but the current data argue that there may be other features associated with this “risk gene” that need to be better understood.

AD is an incurable, terminal form of dementia that is generally diagnosed in individuals age 65 or older and is commonly associated with symptoms such as memory loss and a decline in cognitive abilities.

The article is entitled “Decreased Cognition in Children with Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease.”

About Scripps Translational Science Institute

Founded in 2006, (STSI) is an initiative of Scripps Health, in collaboration with The Scripps Research Institute. STSI initiates research designed to help move basic research from the lab to the patient bedside, bridging the gap between basic science and clinical trials.

Scripps Health is a $2 billion nonprofit community health system based in San Diego, Calif. with 12,300 employees, 2,600 affiliated physicians, five acute-care hospital campuses, home health care services, and an ambulatory care network of clinics and physician offices.

Contact: Steve Carpowich
Phone: 858-678-7183
E-mail: carpowich.stephen@scrippshealth.org