Gene Variant May Hasten Silent Strokes, Debilitating Stroke Or Alzheimer's

NASHVILLE, Feb. 6 -- For several years, scientists have known that people who have inherited the E-4 variant of the apolipoprotein (apo) gene are at high risk for developing Alzheimers disease. Now they say that having the gene may also signal a higher likelihood of having stroke or another vascular disease in the brain.

The study's lead scientist, Charles DeCarli, M.D., says that people who have the apoE-4 gene variant and high blood pressure have smaller brain volumes and more abnormal white matter in the brain and thus may be more susceptible to silent strokes, which take a toll over time.

The research findings were presented here today at the 24th American Heart Association International Conference on Stroke and Cerebral Circulation.

Not only do the brain changes lead to a gradual deterioration of memory and motor skills, they also may place the person at risk for Alzheimer's disease, he says.

"When you go swimming, you wear a bathing suit instead of pants so that you wont be weighed down when you get in the water," explains DeCarli, of the University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, Kan. "By the same token, a smaller brain volume, excess white matter abnormalities or silent stroke, can weigh you down and make you more susceptible to the effects of early Alzheimer's disease."

DeCarli says people who have the apoE-4 gene variant and high blood pressure or other vascular risk factors are at particularly high risk of having a stroke. Vascular disease affects the blood vessels in the brain, says DeCarli.

"People who do not have vascular disease and apoE-4 are not harmed, but if you have high blood pressure or other vascular disease and this apoE-4 gene allele, it really hurts your brain," says DeCarli. "It sets you up for some cognitive impairment. It reinforces the genetic risk for brain injury related to hypertension

Contact: Brian Henry or Cathy Yarbrough
American Heart Association

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