Gene mutation may speed up memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease, Alzheimer’s Society comment

A gene mutation may accelerate the loss of memory and thinking skills in people who are at risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published today.

Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a protein produced by the gene of the same name. It is one of a group of proteins called neurotrophins that help nerve cells grow, specialise and survive.

For the study, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.researchers followed 1,023 people with an average age of 55 for up to 13 years who were at risk of Alzheimer’s disease but at the start were still healthy. Participants gave blood samples which were tested for the gene mutation. Their memory and thinking skills were evaluated at the start of the study and at each study visit, for up to five visits. 32% of the participants had the gene mutation.

Researchers found that when compared to people without the gene mutation, those with the mutation lost memory and thinking skills more rapidly. The researchers also found that people with the gene mutation who also had more beta-amyloid had an even steeper rate of decline.

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society, said:

'This new research suggests that people who have a particular version of the BDNF gene experience slightly faster decline in memory and thinking skills. Around a third of the population have this version of the gene, which is thought to decrease production of the BDNF protein, involved in growth of new brain cells.'

'These findings should not be cause for alarm, much more research is needed to see whether the results stand up to scrutiny in larger groups of people. However, insights like these could help us better understand what is happening as our brain ages and help to develop new, more personalised, treatments for people with dementia in the future.'