Patterns: Maternal Link to Alzheimer’s Makes a Gain

By NICHOLAS BAKALAR
Published: February 28, 2011

Alzheimer’s disease is more common in people whose mothers had the illness than in those whose fathers had it — and the evidence can be found in the brains of people who are still healthy.

Researchers studied 53 mentally healthy men and women over 60 years old. Ten had a father with Alzheimer’s, 11 a mother with the disease, and 32 had no family history of the illness. Each volunteer underwent an initial M.R.I. examination and was examined again two years later.

All the volunteers were still cognitively normal at the two-year point, but those with a family history of Alzheimer’s had significantly more brain atrophy than those without a family history. And even after controlling for age and sex, the deterioration was significantly greater in those with a maternal history of Alzheimer’s than in those with a paternal one.

The authors acknowledge that the study, published in Tuesday’s issue of Neurology, depended on volunteers reporting their parents’ illnesses accurately.

Still, the lead author, Robyn A. Honea of the University of Kansas, said scientists were getting closer to quantifying risk with brain scans. “The goal is to do a scan on someone before they get the disease and be able to tell if they’re at higher risk or starting to deteriorate,” she said. “Can we do that now? No. We need more and larger studies.”

Read the full article at The New York Times website.

NYT: Alzheimer’s Stalks a Colombian Family

YARUMAL, Colombia — Tucked away on a steep street in this rough-hewn mountain town, an old woman found herself diapering her middle-age children. At frighteningly young ages, in their 40s, four of Laura Cuartas’s children began forgetting and falling apart, assaulted by what people here have long called La Bobera, the foolishness. It is a condition attributed, in hushed rumors, to everything from touching a mysterious tree to the revenge of a wronged priest.

It is Alzheimer’s disease, and at 82, Mrs. Cuartas, her gray raisin of a face grave, takes care of three of her afflicted children.

One son, Darío, 55, babbles incoherently, shreds his socks and diapers, and squirms so vigorously he is sometimes tied to a chair with baggy blue shorts.

A daughter, María Elsy, 61, a nurse who at 48 started forgetting patients’ medications, and whose rages made her attack a sister who bathed her, is a human shell, mute, fed by nose tube.

Another son, Oderis, 50, denies that his memory is dying, that he remembers to buy only one thing at a time: milk, not milk and plantains. If he gets Alzheimer’s, he says, he will poison himself.

“To see your children like this … ,” Mrs. Cuartas said. “It’s horrible, horrible. I wouldn’t wish this on a rabid dog. It is the most terrifying illness on the face of the earth.”

Read more at the New York Times.

NEWS: New Alzheimer’s Risk Genes Identified

Scientists have pinpointed two genes that are linked to Alzheimer’s disease and could become targets for new treatments for the neurodegenerative condition.

Genetic variants appear to play an important part in the development of Alzheimer’s since having parents or siblings with the disease increases a person’s risk. It is estimated that one of every five persons aged 65 will develop Alzheimer’s disease in their lifetime, the researchers added.

Genome-wide association studies are increasing scientists’ understanding of the biological pathways underlying Alzheimer’s disease, which may lead to new therapies, said study author Dr. Sudha Seshadri, an associate professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine.

For now, people should realize that genes likely interact with other genes and with environmental factors, she added.

Read more at BusinessWeek.com