SAN DIEGO Women who have a particular gene sequence are at a higher risk of developing cognitive impairment and Alzheimers disease, according to a study from researchers at UCSF and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (SFVAMC).
These inherited sequences, which create small differences in the receptor that binds estrogen, were linked with increased risk of Alzheimers or of declining performance on tests of cognitive function over several years, said lead author Kristine Yaffe, MD, chief of geriatric psychiatry at SFVAMC, and UCSF assistant professor of psychiatry, neurology and epidemiology.
In this study of older women, there wasnt that big a difference in the initial cognitive scores. But over time, the women with these certain sequences had much more cognitive impairment. And they also had a much higher risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimers disease, she said.
The study conducted by Yaffe and her colleagues at UCSF and Axys Pharmaceuticals, was presented here at the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting today, November 14.
The researchers focused on two regions of the estrogen receptor gene that vary greatly from person to person. These gene regions, generally known as polymorphisms, had previously been linked to risks of osteoporosis, endometriosis and breast cancer, Yaffe said.
The study, which followed more than 2,800 women over roughly seven years, found that women with the high risk polymorphism were about 30 to 40 percent more likely to either suffer a major decline in test scores, or be diagnosed with Alzheimers disease.
So far, theres no clear explanation for how these very small differences in the estrogen receptor gene actually influence the fate of womens brains, Yaffe said. A few studies suggest that the polymorphisms may change the function of the receptor. We really need more research in this area, she said.