By Tim Newman
New research, presented this week at the European Society of Human Genetics conference in Barcelona, Spain, demonstrates that men whose blood cells lack Y chromosomes are more susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease. The team hopes that, in the future, these findings might help develop an early warning system for Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 5 million Americans; that equates to 1 in 9 people over the age of 65.
Despite the huge number of Alzheimer’s cases, the molecular mechanisms behind it and the exact risk factors are still poorly understood.
The primary risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is advanced age, but there do seem to be other parameters involved.
For instance, there appears to be a genetic susceptibility. Other researchers have investigated links between Alzheimer’s and high blood pressure, low folate intake, and high cholesterol levels; levels of mental and physical activity are also thought to play a role.
Recent research, examining an unusual but prevalent genetic change in men, may have unearthed a new clue to the etiology of Alzheimer’s.
Loss of Y and Alzheimer’s
Recently, Profs. Lars Forsberg and Jan Dumanski, from the Department of Immunology, Genetics, and Pathology at Uppsala University, Sweden, teamed up with scientists from the United Kingdom, France, the United States, and Canada.
Before turning to Alzheimer’s, Prof. Forsberg has previously worked on research investigating LOY and its effects on the progression and development of certain cancers.
The global team looked into the chromosomes of 3,200 men aged 37-96, with an average age of 73. Of this sample, around 17 percent of them displayed LOY in at least 10 percent of their blood cells. LOY was most common in elderly men.
The team found that individuals who already had an Alzheimer’s diagnosis were more likely to have LOY. Also, those with LOY were more likely to develop the disease in the follow-up period.
Because blood cells play such an integral role in the immune system, the researchers wonder whether the LOY might lower the cell’s ability to function correctly in immune responses.
Research into LOY is still in its infancy, but the team hopes that further down the line, measuring LOY in individuals could act as a marker for diseases. Testing for LOY is relatively simple and, if carried out routinely, an increased LOY in a patient could be used as a signal to begin neurological testing or cancer screening, for instance.
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